Rangers Cede Control of Conference Finals to the Lightning

Though they were facing the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning,

though they had needed seven games to advance from each of the first two rounds of the playoffs,

Rangers always had a trump card in their pocket: Fortress Madison Square Garden. 

Even after losing two games in Tampa to allow the Lightning to tie the series, there was an unshakable sense of confidence in Rangerland coming into Game 5.

After all, the team was 8-1 at home in the playoffs, its only loss coming in triple overtime in the very first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So when the Lightning ended the magic with a 3-1 victory at the Garden on Thursday night, it was a hammer blow.

all the more frustrating because the key Tampa goals came not entirely from the power trio of Steven Stamkos,

Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, but also from an unlikely defenseman taking a couple of low-percentage shots.

The Rangers started the night promisingly. Seemingly infused with energy from their venerable arena,