Artemi Panarin #10 of the Rangers plays the puck in the...

Artemi Panarin #10 of the Rangers plays the puck in the first period against Nicholas Paul #20 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Never is a bottom-line business such as playing NHL games more bottom line than in the playoffs.

Strong effort but bad result? Good coaches have the leeway to value performance over wins and losses in the regular season. In the postseason, with only four defeats to give, it’s an issue.

Which is to say, the only thing that matters after an impressive Rangers performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning is that the Blueshirts are  facing playoff elimination again.

The Lightning won, 3-1, on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden on two seeing-eye goals and an empty-netter. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions will take a 3-2 series lead into Saturday night’s Game 6 at Amalie Arena.

“We’ve been down 3-2 every series so far,” Andrew Copp said. “We have to have a level of desperation. I think the confidence of doing it before is bigger and better [now] having to do it again. There’s a belief in the room. We played a pretty solid hockey game. Just two seeing-eye goals against.”

The Rangers were impressive in Game 5, playing with a near-perfect mix of desperation and attention to detail. They were strong along the walls. They were strong on the backcheck. Their passing was crisp. And, not for nothing, playmaker Artemi Panarin likely had his best game of this playoff run.

In the regular season, the Rangers might even be giddy about this type of performance despite the bad result.

They don’t have that luxury now.

“I thought it was an even game, I really did,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Maybe you guys [the media] seen different out there, I don’t know. But I thought it was an even game. I thought we played well enough to win and it didn’t go our way.”

The Rangers are 5-0 in these playoffs in elimination games, and this marks just the third time since the regular season started that they’ve lost three straight. So yes, this Rangers resiliency is a real thing.

And they should head to Tampa not wanting to change anything for Game 6. OK,  maybe one thing, and that’s having more of a shoot-first mentality. But that’s been a season-long observation.

Still, if they play virtually the same way as they did until the final two minutes of Game 5, the Rangers stand at least a 50-50 chance of bringing this series back to the Garden for a Game 7 on Tuesday night.

“We definitely had our chances,” said defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who scored the Rangers’ lone goal on a seeing-eye shot from the left wall at 10:29 of the second period to send the Garden into a frenzy. “Our goalie played well. They made some saves and so did ours, but yeah, we couldn’t seem to get that next goal.”

As for Panarin, the Rangers have needed his elite skill to shine five-on-five, and the Breadman was dangerous all game. He was active around the crease. He won puck battles on the wall. His stopping and starting caused Lightning defenders to fall.

He had a Grade-A chance in succession with Filip Chytil in the first period and another hard shot from the left that Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside late in the second period.

In the third period, with the game still tied 1-1, Panarin made a blind backhanded pass to find Copp cutting to the crease. But Copp opted for an extra pass and couldn’t connect with Ryan Strome at the left post.

Overpassing? Maybe.

But Panarin tried not to second-guess.

“Of course, it’s always good to shoot,” Panarin said via an interpreter. “I’m right after the game and I’m all emotion right now, so it’s kind of hard to analyze.”

Shortly after that, he added, “Maybe we just didn’t shoot enough. As you saw, Copp had a great pass, which there was an empty net, and Strome missed a little so we didn’t realize that chance.”

Still, Panarin’s play was just one of the many good things in the Rangers’ Game 5 performance, with a repeat needed in Game 6.

But because the playoffs are so bottom-line, the 3-1 result in the Lightning’s favor is the only thing that matters.


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