The only time Gerard Gallant expressed some moments of positivity after his Rangers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night was when the question of fatigue had come up.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” the dejected head coach said. “Because that’s what I was thinking. There’s no doubt it showed up.”
Game 6 of the conference final was the Rangers’ 20th playoff game in 40 days, a slate exacerbated by a pair of series comebacks in the opening two rounds of the postseason that called for Game 7 victories over both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes.
“We got seven, seven, no breaks. I would’ve loved to get by tonight to get two days off,” Gallant said. “But that’s the way it goes. When you go seven and seven, there’s not much break and guys don’t get to heal much.
“We battled hard, we competed hard. Did the best they could.”
Running out of gas coupled with the prowess of their opponent — the Lightning are the first team since the mid-1980s to make three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals — revealed the true gulf in class between the two franchises down the stretch.
After outscoring the Lightning 8-1 in 5-on-5 play in Games 1 and 2, the Rangers were outscored 8-2 in the same scenario over Games 3-6.
Outside of Game 4, however, the Blueshirts still managed to hang tough with the two-time defending champs. Games 3 and 6 were decided by a single goal while Game 5 saw the Lightning score two in the final 1:50 to break a 1-1 deadlock.
“I don’t think we were expecting to score six goals a game after that first one [a 6-2 Game 1 win],” defenseman Adam Fox said. “The other games were pretty low-scoring… I don’t think anyone expected this series to be a ton of goals. We knew special teams was going to play a factor. We wanted to score more 5-on-5 and we weren’t able to do that and it hurt us a bit.”
Much of that had to do with the Lightning finally finding its legs after a lengthy eight-day break between the second round and Eastern Conference Final.
“They’re a big, big defensive team.,” Gallant continued. “Our forwards were trying to battle to get there, and it’s fatigue. There’s no doubt in my mind [fatigue played a part].”
“Guys got tired,” defenseman Jacob Trouba added. “That’s a lot of hockey in a short amount of time. That’s hard, physical hockey, too. Some courageous efforts… Guys were feeling it, I’d say.”
Such sentiments did not sit well with Mika Zibanejad, the team’s leading playoff scorer this year.
“There was no fatigue,” he said. “These were the games we all wanted to play. I feel like we got enough rest between the games. It had nothing to do with fatigue.”
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