Eastern Conference Final
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It's hard to believe that the Rangers Game 7 win against the Washington Capitals was just four days ago, isn't it? This afternoon the Rangers are returning to the Garden ice to meet the Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. We already know the familiar faces that will be wearing road whites today and we all know just how poorly the Rangers performed against the Bolts in the regular season, but the only thing that matters right now is which of these teams can win four games before the other one does. The regular season is over. Ryan Callahan is just an opposing player today. Martin St. Louis is a New York Ranger. The past doesn't matter. It's time for the Rangers to get into gear and get back to the Stanley Cup Final, and right now the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the way.
The Rangers are going to need to tighten up their often sloppy play against Tampa today if they want to take Game 1 at the Garden. They are also going to need to use the same recipe of timely penalty killing and discipline that helped them dismantle the Capitals' power play. There are some scary offensive weapons on this Lightning roster, some have called it the deepest forward group in the NHL. This means that the Rangers are going to need each and every line to step up their game and find that next level.
Tampa's blue line is big and tough and their forwards are skilled and fast. This team is a lot more dangerous than Steven Stamkos' one-timer. They work hard, move the puck well, and can dominate the transition game with their forward group. The Rangers are going to need to do everything they can to support Henrik Lundqvist and do what they couldn't do in the regular season- beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.
8 wins away.
Mike's Player to Watch: Rick Nash
Although the spotlight is going to be shine a little bit more on Martin St. Louis in this series given who the opposing team is, the Rangers need Rick Nash to score more than one goal per series. The pressure is on for Nash to finally find a way to produce in the playoffs. I'm normally quick to defend Nash given how often he is criticized, but we all know Rick needs to score. Nash is going to have some big, physical defensemen trying to shut him down in this series, but he can't let that stop him from getting into scoring areas. Lately, it feels like we've seen "perimeter Nash" a little bit more than we'd like. It's time for Nash to get back into areas where his shots are real threats. Watch for Nash to make an impact tonight and hopefully get a puck past big Ben Bishop.
LET'S GO RANGERS!