TAMPA BAY — Inside the coach’s office, where Gerard Gallant and his staff grapple with how best to guide the New York Rangers through another playoff game, there’s an ongoing debate.
Should they keep the same things to show their team that there is no panic? Or make changes to give them a well-deserved boost?
“That’s the line,” Gallant said after Saturday morning’s practice at Amalie Arena. “Obviously we may have talked about some line-up changes and let’s see where it goes from there. But we’ve done that throughout the season so it’s no big deal.”
That’s okay – unless you consider those decisions could be the difference between ending the run memorable or pushing this Eastern Conference Finals to Game 7.
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But no matter which direction Gallant is heading for Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which kicks off shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, his team doesn’t sense any change in his demeanor.
“He’s relaxed,” forward Tyler Motte said. “He knows how to focus the group. Obviously he expects a lot from us. It’s all we can control – our work ethic, our attitude – and that gives the guys the confidence to play the game. If we take care of some of these simple things that we can control, he lets us play our game.”
Gallant made a minor change for Game 5, reinserting Kevin Rooney in favor of veteran Ryan Reaves, who was eliminated for the first time in the playoffs in an effort to add speed to the roster. But it looks like something bigger is brewing for this Game 6 win or come home.
“We’ll see what happens tonight,” said the coach shyly.
Interestingly, Kaapo Kakko was one of the last players to leave Amalie Arena on Saturday morning. Expected scratches usually stay late to get extra work, with the 21-year-old striker among them.
He was limited to just 10:33 of ice time on Thursday as Gallant particularly reduced his use of the Kid Line – which also includes Alexis Lafrenière and Filip Chytil – in recent games. Kakko has been the least consistent of this trio, with five points (two goals and three assists) in 19 playoff games, and looks like a candidate for a surprise scratch in Game 6.
What else could Gallant have up his sleeve?
Bringing Artemi Panarin up to the front row is a consideration.
The dynamic winger struggled to maneuver at his usual pace for much of the playoffs, with just seven even-strength points in 19 games. But the 30-year-old was one of the standout players on the ice in Game 5, registering four scoring chances (two at high danger) from five shot attempts (three on goal) while creating three flats at takeout and two rebounds. , according to Natural Stat Trick.
He looked a lot more like himself – and Rangers could definitely use that Saturday.
“Every night he feels it,” Andrew Copp said of Panarin. “When the puck is on his stick, something special can definitely happen. Obviously those playoff games have been very close, (but) you still see his ability to make plays and create space for himself and his teammates. think there’s a day when I go, ‘Bread doesn’t smell today.’ He is gifted, and he knows he is too. It has been a big part of our success so far and will continue to be.
If Gallant decides against it and keeps Panarin in his usual place with Copp and Ryan Strome, another option to watch would be to move Chytil or Lafrenière to the front row to play with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. He’s used both there at times this season, with Chytil notably playing with them for a stretch in the second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The current front line of Kreider, Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano managed just seven high-risk scoring chances in the first five games of the series, with Lightning coach Jon Cooper pairing them with his defensive-minded trio composed of Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel and Alex. Killorn.
“As a line, we talked a lot about finding our game,” Zibanejad said on Friday. “At the end of the day, we have to be better five against five. We have to be able to create more chances. That’s sort of the theme of everything we’ve talked about. Talking about our line, we’ve been here before. Even in the Carolina series, the way we haven’t gotten a lot of five-on-five against Staal’s (Jordan’s) line. But it’s a new game (Saturday). It’s a new opportunity.
The Cirelli line could become even more difficult if Steven Stamkos replaces Hagel, which would likely be the case if No. 1 center Brayden Point returns from a lower-body injury. He hasn’t played since May 14, but Cooper left the door open for Game 6.
It should be noted, however, that Point stayed on the ice later than most Tampa players on Saturday morning, which is usually a sign that a player will be scratched.
Gallant seemed to share this skepticism.
“If he’s healthy, he’s an integral part of their group,” Gallant said. “He could arguably be their best all-around player, in my opinion. He plays a great game of hockey both ways and he’s a great player. But he has to be healthy. That makes a big difference. He doesn’t hasn’t played for about a month. … So we’ll see if he plays tonight. There’s nothing we can do about it. We have to worry about our game.”
For the Rangers, that means finding ways to generate offense.
Getting more power-play chances would help – they’ve only had three games combined in the last two games – but they need to improve at even strength, where they’ve only scored once in the course. of the last three games.
Whether a few strategic roster tweaks will help this cause is a decision Gallant can wrestle with until the warm-up. But it’s up to the players to make the changes made work.
“It’s a knockout game anyway,” Copp said. “I don’t think we can worry about that. I’ve been on both sides where there’s been a lot of consistency, and that can be nice. It helps the line out when you’re not playing. not as well. But I’ve also been part of a line change every period or every game, and that can create instant sparks and so on. I think the bottom line is how we play this evening.” I don’t think line combinations or anything like that makes a difference. It’s just a matter of mentality, desperation and the quality of our game.”
NY Rangers Projected Lineup: Game 6 at TB Lightning
When: Saturday June 11 at 8 p.m.
Where: Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida.
First line → Artemi Panarin (LW) • Mika Zibanejad (C) • Chris Kreider (RW)
Second line → Alexis Lafrenière (LW) • Ryan Strome (C) • Andrew Copp (RW)
Third line → Barclay Goodrow (AG) • Filip Chytil (C) • Frank Vatrano (AD)
Fourth line → Tyler Motte (LW) • Kevin Rooney (C) • Dryden Hunt (RW)
top pair → K’Andre Miller (L) • Jacob Trouba (R)
second pair → Ryan Lindgren (L) • Adam Fox (R)
Third pair → Justin Braun (L) • Braden Schneider (R)
Hall → Igor Shesterkin
Backup → Alexander Georgiev
Healthy scratches: F Jonny Brodzinski, F Julien Gauthier, Dr Libor Hájek, F Kaapo Kakko, F Greg McKegg, Dr Patrik Nemeth and F Ryan Reaves
Injured: F Sammy Blais (right ACL)
NOTE: This range is subject to change