TAMPA — The New York Rangers’ forgettable four days in Tampa Bay will be a distant memory if they once again take care of business at home.
The Rangers dropped Games 3 and 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena and lost their lead in the Eastern Conference Final, but they’ve won eight consecutive games at Madison Square Garden, where Game 5 is on Thursday (8 pm ET; ESPN , ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 and the Rangers feel good about it because they have home-ice advantage.
“I think that’s going to make us more hungry and angrier,” Rangers forward Artemi Panarin said after the 4-1 loss Tuesday. “Sometimes that’s good. It’s how we react. I don’t think we lost our confidence, just be more hungry next game.”
The Rangers absorbed some pretty big body blows in Games 3 and 4, losing center Ryan Strome to a lower-body injury in Game 3 and center Filip Chitil to an upper-body injury in Game 4.
Chytil missed the last 23-plus minutes of Game 4 and Strome didn’t play after skating in warmups. They are each a game-time decision for Game 5, coach Gerard Gallant said.
But hope is far from lost.
The Rangers haven’t lost a home game since Game 1 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins in triple overtime.
They are 8-0 with a plus-19 goal differential (35-16) in their home games since, averaging 4.38 goals for per game and 2.00 goals against.
They are also 3-0 in home games following a road loss.
“I think we’re confident,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “We expected to get their best. We’re one of three teams left here so it’s competitive hockey. Yeah, you expect their best, you want their best and we want to show we can beat the best. We’re an up- and-coming team, we’ve arrived and we want to play these games.”
The Rangers felt the same way after losing Games 3 and 4 on the road against the Penguins in the first round.
They won Game 5 after a 7-2 loss in Game 4 that put them down 3-1 in the series. They also won Games 6 and 7.
When Panarin said after the game Tuesday that the Rangers are OK because they’ve been in worse spots, the first round is what he was talking about.
“We’re probably in the best spot we’ve been through three series, we’ve got two games at home,” Rangers forward Andrew Copp said. “I think we’re all confident where we’re at right now, but there has to be an increased level of desperation for sure.”
The Rangers had that desperation after losing back-to-back road games against the Carolina Hurricanes to start the second round. They came back home and won Games 3 and 4. They also won Game 6 at the Garden against Carolina after losing on the road in Game 5.
In fact, the Rangers’ performance in Game 4 against the Lightning had many of the same traits as Game 5 against the Hurricanes.
Gallant said his team looked “tired” in Game 5 against the Hurricanes, a 3-1 loss when they were outshot 34-17. He said they weren’t quick enough or strong enough, that they were reaching and had no response when they were swallowed by the Hurricanes’ forecheck.
The same things happened here Thursday even though the Rangers outshot the Lightning 35-31. Gallant didn’t use the word tired, but he clearly wasn’t happy with the effort, saying the Lightning “paid a price to win,” an indictment on the Rangers.
“Not enough, not enough,” Gallant said. “We didn’t block enough shots. We didn’t finish enough hits. You know, the good things that make you win games. That’s what we’ve got to do better.”
The Lightning also didn’t give the Rangers any freebies in either of the two games at Amalie Arena.
“They haven’t made any mistakes,” Gallant said. “We haven’t had a lot of scoring chances, but they haven’t opened up the game. They didn’t create a whole lot of scoring chances either, but they haven’t made the and I think that’s from experience from winning teams.
“They’re playing good, solid playoff hockey, and that’s what we have to do.”
The Rangers have done that throughout the playoffs on home ice, where they’ve been relentless, sharper, quicker through the neutral zone. In Games 1 and 2, they also had Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy moving side to side, opening holes that led to nine goals against.
Do all of that again on Thursday, and the Rangers will give themselves the best chance to be one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s intense hockey and you’ve got to get ready to play it,” Gallant said. “It doesn’t seem to bother us when we’re playing at home. The last two games, were there issues? Yes. But we’ve got to get better. We will.”
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this story