TAMPA, Fla. — As the scene shifts in the Eastern Conference Final to hot, humid Florida, the red-hot Rangers are looking to take a stranglehold on the series in Game 3 Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena.
The Blueshirts, who won the first two games against the Lightning at the Garden in the best-of-seven series, have won four straight, including the final two games in the second-round series win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
But Rangers coach Gerard Gallant doesn’t believe momentum is carrying his team right now. Gallant has said on more than one occasion that while he does believe teams can feed off momentum within games, he doesn’t believe momentum applies to an entire series.
Each game is a new challenge, he said, and momentum doesn’t carry over from one game to another.
“We’re playing well. We’re playing our best hockey the last four games, I would agree with that,’’ Gallant said Saturday at the team’s media availability at its hotel. “But does it turn over tomorrow? I’m not a believer in that.
“We’ve got to continue to play our game. We’ve got to play well. We’ve got to work hard. We’ve got to do the same things that make us play well.
“I don’t think, just because we won the last four, we’ve got momentum going into tomorrow. I don’t believe that.’’
In earning 6-2 and 3-2 wins over the Lightning, the Rangers accomplished something no other team had done against Tampa Bay since 2019: They beat the Lightning in two straight playoff games. Tampa Bay had won 17 straight games following a loss in the last three postseasons, including three such games in the first round against Toronto.
The Lightning had not lost two games in a row since being swept by Columbus in the 2019 playoffs.
The Rangers never seemed overly impressed by the Lightning’s streak, though. They are confident in how good a team they are and how well they currently are playing. That, according to forward Tyler Motte, may better explain how they have been able to string wins together.
“I don’t know if it’s so much momentum, game-to-game, as it maybe is confidence,’’ Motte said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of guys that are playing well, which is great for our group. With the travel, with the different series, different opponents, different buildings, momentum sometimes has to be earned and started every single night. But I think the confidence is definitely carried over from game to game, especially for some individuals specifically.’’
The Kid Line, featuring 22-year-old center Filip Chytil and wingers Kaapo Kakko, 21, and Alexis Lafrenière, 20, seems to be a good example of that sort of confidence.
The youngsters have been a presence with the energy they have brought and the offense they have created in the postseason. Chytil had a three-game run in Games 6 and 7 of the Carolina series and Game 1 of the Lightning series in which he totaled five goals. He didn’t score in Game 2 on Friday at the Garden, but Kakko did, and the line produced nine shots on goal, led by Chytil’s four.
According to Gallant, the belief the Rangers have in themselves is something that has developed as a result of their success during the regular season — playing well against good teams, avoiding extended losing streaks and coming back to win games in often improbable fashion.
“I think we built it as we went,’’ he said. “I always come back to this . . . We were first or second in the league in comeback victories [their 27 comeback wins in the regular season were second to Florida’s 29], and that’s huge for a team. You build your team confidence from that, and guys never want to quit . . .
“We just keep working to find a way, and we did it enough times this year that we’re going to build confidence with our group. I think that’s what happened.’’