New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) celebrates with teammates...

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game 5 of the NHL Hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference Finals, Thursday, June 9, 2022, in New York (AP Photo/Adam Hunger) Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

 TAMPA, Fla.

This is fun.

Maybe it doesn’t always feel that way to Rangers fans rising and falling with each victory or defeat, especially with the team facing playoff elimination again in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday night.

Or even to coach Gerard Gallant, who acknowledged, “You drive home and you want to jump over the bridge” after his team was pushed to the brink with a 3-1 loss in an evenly played Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

But for the Rangers to prolong their season, they must maintain the joy in their game — the sense of having fun — that’s fueled all of their careers since they were young boys.

“I think we all play hockey because we’re extremely competitive people and we love a challenge and we love the difficulties that come with playing the games,” said Barclay Goodrow, a member of the Lightning the previous two seasons as they won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Friday was a new day for the Rangers. Saturday will be a new game. Just win the game and the teams return to the Garden for Game 7 on Tuesday night.

“No matter where you are in the series, when you look at it, it’s just one game,” Goodrow said. “You can’t control anything past this game. You can’t control anything that’s happened previously in this series. All we need to focus on is going out there and winning one game.

“Especially our group, we are playing our best when we are having fun and we’re rooting for each other and being good teammates and just going out there and playing the game. That’s what we’ve resorted back to in the first couple of rounds, and it’s done the job for us.”

The Rangers are 5-0 in elimination games in these playoffs, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against the Penguins and 2-0 and 3-2 holes against the Hurricanes in the second round.

“It’s probably a big component in anyone’s success,” Goodrow said of having fun. “If you’re not having fun at what you’re doing, then there’s no point in doing it. We all love this game and we love competing, and everyone knows to get to the Final, to be one of the final three teams playing, it’s not easy. There’s a ton of good teams in the league, a lot of competition. Getting to this point, it’s a lot of fun.

“It’s winning each series, winning each game in the series. Going through the ups and downs of a series. Kind of riding the wave. It’s great, and it’s something that when you are eventually able to make it over the top, you look back at all those past experiences and it helped form you into the team you are.”

Of course, a successful playoff run is not all laughs and giggles, and only one team can lift the Cup. The Islanders had plenty of fun in their back-to-back runs to the NHL final four in the previous two seasons, but there were tears each year when the Lightning eliminated them.

Gallant was in an upbeat mood as he addressed the media at the team’s hotel on Friday. He’s an excellent leader and he knows players look to the coach to set the tone.

But his mood wasn’t forced, though it was lightened by the hours between Thursday’s defeat and Friday’s news conference.

“It wasn’t fun last night driving home, that’s for sure,” Gallant said, laughing and drawing laughter. “Today, it’s a lot better than it was last night. You lose that game last night, you drive home and you want to jump over the bridge. You feel bad about it. It’s a tough game that could have gone either way. It happens.

“This morning, you wake up, you get back at it and say we’ve got a big game tomorrow. And then you say, ‘Well, we’re in a pretty good position. There are three teams left in the NHL playoffs and we’re one of them.’ You’ve got to be happy with that.”

The Rangers have got to have fun with that. Because it is fun.

It has been since they were all boys.


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