The Rangers season is officially over.
New York fell to Tampa Bay 2–1 on Saturday night to lose the Eastern Conference Finals by a 4–2 margin, as the Lightning punched a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final and sent the Blue Shirts packing.
The heartbreaking loss ended the Rangers impressive playoff run, where the resilient team from Madison Square Garden had won their previous 2 series in 7 games each.
“We battled hard. I’m proud of our guys. We competed every game,” said head coach Gerard Gallant.
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Tampa Bay now heads to Colorado in a finals series, where the Lighting are looking to capture their 3rd-straight Stanley Cup.
Saturday’s Game 6, which saw the Rangers on the ropes in the Amalie Arena, saw the Lightning dominate the puck, while team captain Steven Stamkos found the back of the net for both of Tampa’s goals against star New York goalie Igor Shesterkin.
“It was an unbelievable team effort,” Stamkos said. “The hardest thing to do is to win a championship, but this team knows what it takes.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Shirts’ only score came from Frank Vatrano on a Power Play in the 3rd period, which temporarily tied the game, before a controversial score by Stamkos re-took the lead for the Lightning just 21 seconds later.
21 SECONDS LATER. STAMKOS PUTS THE BOLTS BACK UP 😱 pic.twitter.com/Q7foEcigkk
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) June 12, 2022
Stamkos drove towards the net, before launching a shot into the glove of Shesterkin — but after the puck bounced out of the goalie’s control, it bounced off of Stamkos’ hip and into the net, while the Lightning captain’s body prevented Shesterkin from potentially stopping the puck from crossing the goal line.
The referees reviewed the play, but upheld the ruling on the ice, giving the defending champions a lead that New York would fail to recover from.
But Rangers fans will have little room to complain, as Tampa dominated the contest for most of the game, forcing Shesterkin to complete 31 saves, while Lightning goalie had a comparatively quiet night with 21 stops.
Both netminders are considered to be at the top of their respective games, which showed itself throughout the series.
“I don’t know how many times you’re going to see a matchup with 2 great goalies like this,” said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper during a 2nd Period interview.
Frustratingly for fans of the idolized Rangers’ “Kid Line,” the team’s coach Gallant scratched winger Kaapo Kakko before the game, before declining to explain his decision to reporters — leaving observers scratching their heads over the sudden change, which breaks up the dynamic trio of Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” he told reporters after the game.
The coach was perhaps looking for a spark with a new attack, but it never came. Now, the Rangers head into the offseason after a year that saw them secure 110 points on a 52–24–6 record — good for 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.
They previously beat the Pittsburg Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes. This marked their first Conference Finals appearance since the 2014–15 season, when they also lost to the Lightning in a 7-game series.
Tampa again heads to the Cup Finals, looking to complete their 3-peat, and will face off against the Colorado Avalanche in a series beginning on Wednesday, June 15.