Lightning strips home ice advantage from Rangers to edge closer to Stanley Cup Final berth

“If there’s one sport where having home-court advantage doesn’t matter so much, it’s our sport.” —Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Before the New York Rangers left Tampa, their early-series momentum a distant memory in what had suddenly turned into a best-of-three, they all cited home ice as a advantage.

Madison Square Garden.

In the world’s most famous arena, before the NHL’s most famous playoff fanbase, the Blueshirts had crushed their opponents to an 8-1 playoff record. Igor Shesterkin had been extinguished in the city that never sleeps. Stud center Mika Zibanejad had a six-game goal streak at home, and he wouldn’t be dealing with that annoying Anthony Cirelli chasing him all night.

Hiring Ranger Andrew Copp had already felt the influence of his new home. The last change would help, of course. Beer-drinking, chant-inventing supporters could pick them up if they stumbled, propel them higher if they got up. And then there was something psychological at play, a confidence woven into the darker sweaters.

“Home teams are supposed to win, in general,” Copp told reporters. “For some reason MSG has been a good home for us.”

They say no streak really starts until someone loses at home. So, with the Tampa Bay Lightning claiming a 3-1 win in enemy territory on Thursday, this streak could end on Saturday night.

If a noisy, star-studded barn wasn’t enough, Rangers got a boost with the return of not one but two healthy center players to their roster, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil.

And a second jolt when hard-nosed defenseman Ryan Lindgren tossed a puck high against Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the home side a 1-0 lead halfway through the event.

Once again, Rangers seemed to be using their own barn to their advantage.

“How are we going to fight this?” Lightning coach Jon Cooper wondered. “Are we going to stick with what we know has worked? Will we be able to fight by checks? Will we be able to fight through the noise of the crowd? These are things that, if you want to win the Stanley Cup, you have to do.

“It’s going to take everything we have – and probably more – to win a game on the road.”

The champions cut through the noise and trampled through adversity, without breaking their game plan.

Remember, the Lightning didn’t have home ice in Rounds 1 and 2 either. They’re used to that.

“We knew it was going to be a low score grind game, and the team that continued to grind the most (would win),” Steven Stamkos said. “When you stick with it long enough, you’re usually rewarded.”

Defender Mikhail Sergachev tied the game at low cost with a blind wrist shot from the point that went through seven bodies from his blade to the net, the last belonging to Shesterkin.

Corey Perry was the last screen, an awkward and obnoxious mainstay right in Shesterkin’s line of sight.

“It’s about taking his eyes out. It’s about being there, but not in the blue,” Perry explained.

“As (the tournament) gets deeper, the goals are harder to hit. You have to work a little harder. It’s not always going to be those big passing plays. It’s going to be about rebounds or predictions, and those goals are scored right in front of the net, so someone has to go there.

“He’s an excellent goalkeeper. If he sees the puck, he will stop it.

The defensive struggle in Game 5 seemed to be heading into extra time until a second Sergachev shot into traffic (only six bodies this time) deflected Ondrej Palat’s leg for the winner with 110 seconds left.

“I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like this before,” Sergachev said, after his whole body shook with joy.

An empty net from Brandon Hagel sealed it.

“It doesn’t matter where we play,” said Tampa’s Victor Hedman. “If we play on a pond outside or at MSG, we want to win the game.”

Now the Lightning will take a 3-2 series lead and some stacked odds at Tampa Bay, back under those banners, with a chance to clinch their 11e consecutive series on Saturday.

Home ice will be in favor of Tampa. Same for math. Seventy-nine percent of teams that win Game 5 of a tied series continue to qualify.

But it is no longer a series of circuits.

“We’ve lost 3-2 in every series so far,” Copp said. “We have to have a level of desperation. I think the confidence of doing it before is bigger and better than having to do it again. I think there is belief in the room.

Fox’s Fast 5

• When was the last time two first draft picks dropped the gloves in a playoff game?

“That’s what great captains do,” Palat said. “And he is.”

• Brayden Point (lower body) missed their ninth game in a row. The plot will once again hover over the star center’s availability on Saturday for Game 6.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said teammate Ryan McDonagh. “You have to go out there and be efficient, not just go with the flow. This is playoff hockey. It’s different from the regular season. It’s faster, more intense.

“So you have to be honest with yourself and put yourself in a position to help the team, not hurt the team. And we trust Pointer.

• Ondrej Palat cleverly dodges a flying chicken wing from Jacob Trouba:

• Rangers have scored just four goals (and only one at even strength) on Vasilevskiy in this three-game losing streak.

• Lots of celebrity sightings.

NHL Awards host Kenan Thompson wore an OutKast jersey I’d love for Father’s Day, please.

And Rangers/Islanders fan Jimmy Fallon apparently eats hot dogs with the same vigor Lindgren eats pucks.

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