The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from booking a ticket to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in as many years.
Few people thought such a feat would be possible in the salary cap era. But the Lightning are achingly close to achieving it, beating the New York Rangers by a score of 3-1 on Thursday night to take a commanding 3-2 series lead as they prepare to head back to Tampa.
This result is not exactly a common occurrence for the Rangers, either. New York had lost just once on home ice prior to Game 5, a triple-overtime defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins back in Game 1 of the first round, with Madison Square Garden otherwise serving as the team's secret weapon.
The Lightning conquered that home-ice advantage, however, holding the Rangers to just 25 shots on goal in a terrific defensive effort from the entire lineup.
Game 5 was Mikhail Sergachev's time to shine, with the 23-year-old scoring two goals to first tie the game and then give the Lightning the lead when they needed it most. Tampa's star trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman chipped in one assist each of their own, as well, while pricey deadline acquisition Brandon Hagel added an empty-netter to seal the game late in the third.
Ryan Lindgren scores the Rangers' lone goal of the contest, with the tally coming unassisted.
In net, Andrei Vasilveskiy continued his resurgence after a rocky start to the series, stopping 24 of 25 shots to prevent a vaunted Rangers attack from generating any momentum. After surrendering a weak opening goal to Lindgren halfway through the second period, Vasilevskiy completely locked things down, looking like his brilliant, perennial Vezina-favorite self en route to victory.
Igor Shesterkin, on the other hand, had a respectable performance, albeit not quite good enough to out-duel that of Vasilevskiy. The Rangers' netminder stopped 25 of 27 shots to post a .926 save percentage through 60 minutes, but unfortunately received little offensive help from his teammates up front.
With the series now hanging in the balance, the Rangers face an uphill battle to save their season as they head to Tampa Bay for a do-or-die Game 6. The Lightning look to be rolling, with their stars coming out in full force and their netminder turning away pucks with ease.
If the Rangers want to play at least one more game in the Big Apple, they certainly have their work cut out for them.