TAMPA, Fla. — Gerard Gallant is not a believer in momentum.
The Rangers’ head coach has a philosophy of focusing on the now. What happens today has nothing to do with yesterday. That has bled into his team, and he’s not about to change it now. But even Gallant had to make a slight concession on Saturday.
“We’re playing well,” he said ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday against the Lightning. “We’re playing our best hockey the last four games. I would agree with that.
“Does it turn over to tomorrow? I’m not a believer in that.”
Momentum or not, the Rangers, who lead the Lightning 2-0 in the series, seem to have found something in themselves that few outside of the room believed they had. They are just two victories away from being Eastern Conference champions for the first time since 2014, and have played their most convincing hockey of these playoffs over their past four games — all wins, in which they beat the Hurricanes 5-2 and 6-2 before beating the Lightning 6-2 and 3-2.
No one expects Tampa Bay, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, to go down easy. But these Rangers have the Lightning against the ropes.
“I don’t know if it’s so much momentum game to game as it maybe is confidence,” Tyler Motte said, a day after a superb Game 2 performance. “Obviously we got a lot of guys that are playing well, which is great for our group with the travel, with the different series, different opponents, different buildings, momentum sometimes has to be earned and started every single night. But I think the confidence has definitely carried over from game to game.”
Brick by brick, that confidence has built throughout the postseason as the Rangers picked themselves up off the ground to come back from 3-1 and 2-0 series deficits in the opening two rounds. Their Game 1 win over Tampa Bay marked the first time in the playoffs that they led a series before the final game. You would never know it from watching them.
Over two games in New York, the Rangers flew around the ice, controlling play with nary a moment of doubt. No one has done that to the Lightning over a seven-game series since 2019. The Rangers are not there yet, and Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena will be a new test, in front of a road crowd and against an opponent that knows exactly what’s on the line.
But with each passing game, the evidence has built that there could be something special in this Rangers team. Ask Gallant about their confidence and he’ll point to the team’s 27 comeback wins.
“No quit is the perfect scenario for us,” he said. “We just keep working and find a way. We did [it] enough times this year that we’re gonna build confidence with this group.”
Every professional sports team spouts similar platitudes about itself at one point or another. The Rangers seem to be one of those rare groups that will be able to back it up, and prove that their words are more than an empty slogan.
“I think we always want to compete,” Motte said. “We always want to be in the battle, especially with one another. I think you see it in spurts, in different ways. You look at the end of a game, there’s a scrum and we’re all in there rolling. We’re all looking out for one another.”
That scene repeated itself at the end of games throughout the Carolina series. Against Tampa Bay, it has played out after whistles again and again.
“There’s many different ways that this group fights and battles for one another,” Motte said. “It’s special to be a part of, just having that ingrained into our DNA a little bit.”
Of course, everything is still in front of the Rangers. There is still the next day, the next period, the next shift. And it will all be for nothing if they take their eyes off the ball now.
“There’s really one goal in mind,” Motte said. “And if everyone’s pushing towards that one goal, odds are you’re gonna have more success at it.”