Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 5/25/12

Elimination. Something the 2011-12 New York Rangers have faced many times in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, but something they've yet to actually experience. Their backs have been against the wall before, but this resilient group of hockey players has never before failed in pulling through to salvage their season. With that, the Blueshirts should feel quite comfortable and confident as they take the ice for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Prudential Center; a game in which they will be staring death straight in its eyes after losing Game 5, 5-3, to the New Jersey Devils Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. It's do or die tonight, and to this point, this club has only known how to 'do'.

Game 5 was quite the disappointment for the Rangers and their fans. After falling into a 0-3 hole in just the opening 9:49 of the first period, New York would battle back to bring the game to a 3-3 tie early in the third. Unfortunately all the effort and hard work in doing so went to waste, as a quick bang-bang play late in regulation saw the Devils walk away with a 3-2 lead in the series returning to their home arena tonight. This was as deflating of a loss as this team has faced in the postseason, and you could see it on their faces in the locker room immediately afterward. They have no choice but to put it behind them, however, as they must win two more games or they will be going home just short of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. 

What was key in Wednesday's loss, though, was the fact that the Rangers, despite failing to get the win, played their best game of the entire series. For 40-45 minutes of that tilt, they were the dominant hockey team that ascended to the top spot in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. Their forecheck was unstoppable, they dominated puck control and kept New Jersey in defensive mode for an extended period of time. Where the mistake lied was that they did not play with such force for the entire sixty minutes. Being a young, inexperienced team, the Rangers did not properly close out that game as they should've, which is why they now are in a life or death situation tonight. 

But playing like they did for a majority of Game 5 on this night will give them life and force a Game 7 beyond shadow of a doubt. They will need their top guys to step up if that is going to happen, and many of those 'top guys' were M.I.A. in the last outing. This is in reference to Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and even Brian Boyle (I know) as he's been skating on egg shells as of late. Sure Gaborik scored the other night, but we haven't seen that passion and desire to win out of him yet like we are seeing from Zach Parise on the other side of this match-up. And Brad Richards is supposed to be the go-to guy in situations like this, yet he's coming off his worst performance of the season. Hell, he even took a shot on his only goalie in the third period. 

Getting those guys to bring their effort up a notch, in addition to the guaranteed energy brought by the Ryan Callahans, Brandon Dubinskys, Chris Kreiders and Carl Hagelins, the Rangers will be a tough team to stop tonight as they face elimination for the fourth time in the 2012 playoffs. These are the games where heroes are established (Stephan Matteau ring a bell?), and the Rangers need one or more of those to establish themselves tonight and also on Sunday if they reach that point. 

The Rangers' start to this game is obviously extremely critical as well. If it were not for the ugly opening ten minutes of Game 5, the Rangers win that one easily. Scoring early tonight and grabbing momentum right from the get-go will only help the Rangers, especially in an away arena, and suddenly turn the tables. And on the flip side, they absolutely cannot allow an early goal against - that will be the death of them. 

As for the lineup, John Tortorella has not confirmed anything just yet (surprise, surprise), but it looks as if Steve Eminger will be in for Stu Bickel tonight. 

New York Rangers (Expected) Lineup



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