TAMPA, Fla. — The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be rolling now, having won the last two games of the Eastern Conference Final over the Rangers in Tampa to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2. Some might say all the momentum in the series now would seem to be with the Lightning, but Rangers coach Gerard Gallant doesn’t believe in momentum carrying over from game to game.
“How many times have I said it?’’ Gallant said Wednesday before the Rangers flew home for Game 5 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. “There's no momentum. And for me as a coach, that's the way I look at it. When we were up two games to none, I don't think we carried any momentum. I just think it's, you get ready for the next game.’’
The Rangers will get ready for Game 5 with the status of two of their top three centermen, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil, uncertain. Strome, who appeared to suffer a right knee injury in Game 3, was a late scratch for Game 4. Chytil, whose seven goals in the playoffs are third-most on the team, left Game 4 late in the second period with what the team said was an upper-body injury that seemed to be the result of a hit into the boards he took from Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
Gallant said he expects both Strome and Chytil to play in Game 5, though he conceded he had expected Strome to play in Game 4. Both players are considered game-time decisions, he said.
What the coach can count on is support from the Blueshirt faithful in Game 5, and he’s hoping that will provide the energy his team needs to re-take the series lead. The Rangers are 8-1 at home in the playoffs, he pointed out.
“Let's go play our home game again and get right back at it,’’ he said. “But it's going to be a battle. I mean, we’re playing against a team that had a lot of experience the last three years, obviously, and you know, they're not going to give it to us. We’ve got to go out and take it.’’
Forward Andrew Copp, who centered the second line in Game 4 after Strome couldn’t go, argued that the Rangers are “in the best spot we’ve been in through three series.’’ He was referring to the fact they were down 3-1 in the Pittsburgh series going into Game 5, and tied 2-2 going into Game 5 in the Carolina series, but with two of the remaining three games on the road. This time, the Rangers have Games 5 and 7, if necessary, at the Garden.
“We’ve got two games [of the potential three remaining in the series] at home,’’ he said.
Copp said the team draws energy from the Garden fans.
“It's a crowd that, any time things are going well, they're behind you, and kind of increasing that momentum and snowballing a little bit,’’ he said. “And then, when things aren't going well, as soon as you get any sign of life, they can really kind of push you in the right direction.’’
He added that the Rangers having the last line change at home also helps, and said there’s probably a mental component, where players simply feel more comfortable and expect to win at home.
“Home teams are supposed to win in general, and that's why you get the better record in the regular season, to get home ice,’’ he said. “I've also been in series where the road team wins every game, so you just kind of never know how it plays itself out. But for whatever reason, MSG has been a good home to us."