The New York Rangers are fresh off a second consecutive 3-1 series comeback (the first team in NHL history to do so in back to back years), this time at the expense of the Washington Capitals, to earn their place in this year's Eastern Conference Finals. This should be a fun, fast series that pits the Rangers against some familiar faces.
The Rangers are coming into the Eastern Conference Final hot at a rocket, winning three straight games to crawl out of from the bottom of a 3-1 series hole to vanquish the Caps in exciting fashion in seven games. While the Rangers and Capitals are familiar foes, this series saw the two teams combine for 65.28 shots per game (For comparison, the infamous Torts/Hunter series combined for 55.71 shots per game). This was a fast, pounding series that featured the best goaltending of the playoffs so far.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off of a surprisingly tougher series against the Montreal Canadiens than most expected. After building up a quick 3-0 series lead, the Lightning let the Habs back into the series before finally closing it out in six. Tampa's fleet of fast, young skaters were stifled by Carey Price and Montreal's stingy defense while goalie Ben Bishop continued his adventures in goal. You also have three former Rangers; Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman facing their former team while Tampa Bay fans get acquainted with Martin St. Louis again.
By The Numbers
In three regular season games this year the Lightning outscored the Rangers 15-7 at all strengths and generally out played them in every game on route to putting together a very impressive season for such a young squad (they finished the season at 51.3% possession at all strengths). In the playoffs, however, the Lightning are only pulling down a 48% possession share through their 13 games and have looked very beatable. The Rangers are, for the most part, playing their game; sitting at a 51.3% possession share through 12 games and have done a great job at shutting down potent offensive players this post season.
The Eye Test
The Lightning succeed by attacking the opposing puck carrier aggressively in the neutral zone and cutting down any passing lanes
With one player on the Rangers defender, the Bolts have two men ready to support him at the red line while the Tampa defense sits ready at the blue line shutting down any attempt for a quick outlet.
After rushing a bad pass the Rangers offense is stifled at the blue line with four Tampa players back ready to count strike quickly and with numbers.
Three Ways the Rangers Win
1) Emphasis your size: The Lightning's second line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov (known as the Triplet Line) has been flying the entire playoffs but they also average around 5'9 in height. If the Rangers can get 6'3 Chris Kreider, 6'5 Kevin Hayes, 6'2 J.T. Miller, and 6'3 Rick Nash to utilize the size and strength advantage it would give them a huge boost.
2) Smart defense: Playing in 12 straight one goal games in these playoffs, the defense has been stout through both rounds and this series needs to be no different. Ryan McDonagh and company have done a good enough job shutting down Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and now have to contend with Steven Stamkos.
3) Let Lundqvist be Lundqvist: Self explanatory here; let the best goalie in a generation play his game and the Rangers will always have a chance.
Three Ways the Lightning Win
1) Force the issue: The Lightning are at their best when they are aggressive in the neutral zone and are controlling the puck. They've exposed the Rangers lack of foot speed on the back end during the regular season and if they can do that again it will be a big boost.
2) Get into a track meet: While the Rangers are fast, the Lightning may just be faster and if they can get the Rangers defense to defend speed and quick transitions lanes will open up for them.
3) Survive Ben Bishop: The 6'7 goaltender has had some adventurous times in the playoffs so far and the Lightning have been a bit lucky to survive his gaffes. They should hope that continues for them
Rangers in seven. Going with my heart instead of my head on this one after watching the Rangers climb out of another 3-1 hole. I think the Lightning will be the Rangers biggest challenge, but in the end, I always bet on Henrik Lundqvist.