They pulled out all the stops to psych up the Madison Square Garden crowd and help generate a win for the Rangers Sunday night. Longtime anthem singer John Amirante returned, the team came out for warm-ups to Jane's Addiction's "Superhero," the signature song of "Entourage," a movie that the Rangers saw in Tampa. Entourage's Kevin Dillon was in the crowd, along with comics Ray Romano and Larry David. The Garden was at its loudest before the puck dropped.
But the home team responded with only silence, managing just 26 shots in a 2-0 shutout at the hands of a determined Tampa Bay defense in front of goaltender Ben Bishop in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, a loss that pushed the Blueshirts to the brink of elimination with Game 6 in Tampa on Tuesday night.
The Rangers, a team that had scored 10 goals in the previous two games, came up empty at even strength, four times on the once-hot power play.
"They convert on one of theirs," Marc Staal said. "We just weren't able to find a way to get one behind him tonight."
After three shots on the first of two man-advantages in the first period, the Rangers had just two shots on the next three opportunities stretching into the second, as the Lightning penalty-killers were more aggressive on puck carriers. That was the turning point.
"Our execution was a bit slow on the power play," coach Alain Vigneault lamented.
Derek Stepan said, "We worked extremely hard to get the puck back and then just made poor decisions with it."
The game flipped after that. At 13:29 of the second period, after the fourth Rangers power play, Valterri Filppula finished a two-on-one on a pass from Steven Stamkos, beating Lundqvist stick side off the post and in for a 1-0 lead. When Staal tripped Nikita Kucherov at 17:04 of the second, Stamkos ended a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Ondrej Palat and Kucherov with an easy redirect on the doorstep for a 2-0 lead with 1:38 left.
"I think we did what the Rangers did last game, we bent, but didn't break," Stamkos said. "We had the lead in the third and we shut it down. We're looking to come home and take the series. We hope we can ride the momentum we have right now."
For the Rangers, nothing worked offensively, as the Lightning blocked 24 shots. "It wasn't like the last game [a 5-1 win]," Staal said. "We controlled the puck and the play and just weren't able to continually create enough and score."
Tampa Bay, which leads the series 3-2, really clamped down. "Usually it happens as you get closer to the end of a series," said Lundqvist, who made 20 saves, "more thinking behind the plays, more than just go-go-go."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper wanted his troops to focus on defense, and that was evident. The tight-checking first period ended without a goal -- the only first period without a score since Game 1 of the series -- and very few shots on net: The Rangers had six, the Lightning four. "We should have probably thrown a few more pucks toward the net," Ryan McDonagh said.
The Rangers had split the first two games at the Garden, winning 2-1 and being throttled 6-2 in Game 2. In Game 3 in Tampa, the Lightning won, 6-5, in overtime, and the Rangers responded with a 5-1 victory in Game 4. They will need one more road win, or a long season will end Tuesday night.
"For us this year, there is going to be no bigger game than the next one," Vigneault said.