After nearly taking a 3-0 series lead, the New York Rangers find themselves heading back home tied at two games apiece with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Suddenly, that comfort blanket they had early in the series is gone. The two teams swept their home games, with the series shifting back to the Big Apple on Thursday. The Rangers have won eight straight games at home after a triple-overtime loss in the very first game of the playoffs, showing why winning on the road at Madison Square Garden has been the downfall for New York's opponents in these playoffs.
And after losing the momentum in Florida, the Rangers need a big bounce-back game in Game 5 to put the pressure back on Tampa Bay.
In the two losses to Tampa Bay, the offense came from the big guns of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The kid line that had done so much damage early -- Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil -- failed to get on the scoresheet.
The same goes to prized trade deadline acquisition Andrew Copp, and Frank Vatrano has just one assist to show for. We're talking about two games, but the team's offense has quieted down in a hurry, and we don't know when -- or if -- Dylan Strome will return after a strange-looking incident in Game 3. The same goes for Chytil, who will be a game-time decision for Game 5.
Throw in a rather poor performance from Artemi Panarin and you can understand why the team's advantage has vanished.
So, the road back to taking control of the series is a bit more challenging than it was at one point, especially if Brayden Point makes a return for the Lightning. Both teams have essentially used up their mulligans already. They can take advantage of each other's mistakes and truly cause you harm on the scoresheet if you're not playing 100 percent every single shift.
We're at the best-of-three portion of the playoffs, and that's when things really start to get spicy. Call it a full reset. Win two and you're playing for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thankfully for the Rangers, they've got two more games back home if the series goes the distance. Playing off history, though, isn't a true hockey metric, but it does make for an interesting narrative.
The two teams were equal during the regular season, but the Lightning have been viewed as the favorites from the get-go. You earn that when you win consecutive Stanley Cups and sweep the Presidents' Trophy winners, especially when your opponents were forced to win both rounds in seven games. That might need to happen again for the Rangers, but, thankfully, they've played enough flight or fight hockey in this post-season to be prepared for the stress of a close series.
So while the Lightning may have the overall playoff experience and the knowledge of how to close out a series -- especially with a clutch goalie like Andrei Vasilevskiy -- the Rangers have the relevant experience of coming out ahead with their backs against the wall. They'll need a full team effort going forward, and when the depth is hot, they're a handful. That's a big reason why the Rangers took down Pittsburgh and Carolina to get to this point and that adrenaline carried on to the first two games of this series, too.
Tampa's Game 4 victory was a dominant one, and while the score was close in Game 3, the Lightning had over 50 shots. Tampa has actually averaged just under seven more shots a game, and if it wasn't for the heroics of Igor Shesterkin, this series could have completely shifted the other way. The Rangers have been more efficient in the scoring department, and their goaltending has been splendid, but this isn't a Tampa team you want to welcome into the fray.
Game 5 is a fresh start for both clubs, and we'd expect a close affair as both teams try to steal back the impetus and run wild potentially closing things out in Game 6. For both teams, it's must-win hockey.
Luckily for New York, they know all too well what that's about.