Lightning wary of Rangers’ comeback ability amid 3-2 series lead

The feeling was universal in the Tampa Bay dressing room.

Yes, the Lightning take a 3-2 lead back home thanks to their 3-1 win over the Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night at the Garden. 

But, to a man, they spoke after the game like a team well aware of the resilience the Rangers have shown this postseason, coming back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 against Pittsburgh to win in seven games in the opening series and 3-2 against Carolina to win in seven in the second round.

Game 6 is at 8 p.m. Saturday at Amalie Arena, where the Rangers will face elimination for their third consecutive series this postseason.

“I expect their best game,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And with the guy they have leading the charge behind their bench [Rangers coach Gerard Gallant]. He’s a hell of a coach. He’ll have them going.

Lightning players celebrate after their Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Lightning players celebrate after their Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“The Rangers are a better team today than they were in the opening night of the playoffs. They’ve gotten better as a group, so I would expect nothing less than an outstanding effort from them.

“In saying that, just because we’re going home, it would be naïve for us to think that now we’re just going back home and we’re going to win this game. Not a chance. We’ve been in this position before. We’ve had opportunities to close teams out, and we’ve done it for the most part and there’s times when we haven’t.

“We’re here to win a series. We don’t care when we win it. We just want to win it. Next chance to win it now is Saturday night and we’ll be ready.’’

The Lightning will be a tough out at home, but they know the Rangers will be a tough out as the resilient visitor.

“We all know what’s ahead of us and that’s the toughest game,’’ said Mikhail Sergachev, who scored the first Tampa Bay goal after not having scored a goal in his previous 39 playoff games.

“These guys [the Rangers] have pushed and battled the whole playoffs,’’ Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said.

“We’ve been in this situation before,’’ Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who scored their only goal, said. “It seems like we play our best hockey when our backs are against the wall. We’ve just got to go to Tampa and win a game, draw from those past experiences and play our best hockey.’’

Stamkos said: “It’s going to be the toughest game yet, but our group certainly can rely on our experience.’’

The experience the Lightning have includes winning the past two Stanley Cups. That’s the best experience a team can have.

“You prepare for those moments by experience,’’ Stamkos said. “Comfortable is probably not the right word because it’s so intense that you’re not comfortable, you’re just confident.

“When to come into an atmosphere like this on the road, it’s defend ’til the end. You never know when that moment is going to come at the end of a game. You don’t push for it, just stay patient.’’

Stamkos added, “We didn’t like our first two games, for sure,’’ referring to the 2-0 lead the Rangers took in the series.

“Very uncharacteristic plays and just sloppy hockey,’’ he said. “Toward the end of that second game in the third period, we just tried to build off of that. That was more our style. We’ve found the recipe here.’’

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