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Blueshirt Banter Roundtable: Rangers vs. Lightning Series Predictions

Following a stunning Game 7 defeat of the Hurricanes in Raleigh, the Rangers now face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions with a trip to the Cup Final on the line.

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New York Rangers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

I have to say, I didn’t think I would be organizing another one of these roundtables this year, but the New York Rangers did it again in Round 2, coming back in a series where they trailed by two games to ultimately win in seven. Their 6-2 dismantling of the regular-season Metropolitan Division champion Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 on the road was a stunner, and should give them confidence that they can beat anyone, anywhere when they’re on their game.

Now, the Rangers are one series victory away from the Stanley Cup Final, but they will have to dethrone the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series features a goaltending matchup for the ages: Igor Shesterkin vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy. A couple of beloved players (Barclay Goodrow and Ryan McDonagh) will be facing off against their former teams. Oh, and this is also a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, but let’s not discuss that any further.

As difficult as this matchup will be, the Rangers can take solace not only in their aforementioned growing confidence, but also in the fact that they have home-ice advantage by virtue of securing more regulation wins than the Lightning in the regular season (both teams had 110 points).

As I did ahead of the Round 1 series against the Penguins and the recent Round 2 series against the Hurricanes, I collected thoughts for this Round 3 series from some of our Blueshirt Banter staff, to add to my own. We explored the same general topics as in each of the first two rounds:

  • Who will win the series, and in how many games?
  • Who will be the series MVP?
  • Who/what will be the biggest X-factor?
  • Who/what we are most confident in?
  • Who/what we are most worried about?

Let’s dive in.


Who Will Win the Series, and in How Many Games?

Roberto: Rangers in 6; you read it here first.

Tom U.: Rangers in 6

Leighann: Rangers in 6

Tom D.: Rangers in 7

Brianna: Rangers in 7

Mike: Lightning in 5. Look, I picked Canes in 5 last series.

Jack: Lightning in 6

Kevin: Lightning in 7

Commentary

The Lightning are the favorites on paper, but so were the Hurricanes. A lot of our staff here likes the Rangers to pull off another upset. I picked the Hurricanes to beat the Rangers in six, so I almost did the same thing with the Lightning so things might work out the same way, but in watching these “No Quit in New York” Rangers and their elite vibes, it’s hard not to believe they’ll find a way to win again. Of course, if they do, it’ll have to be in seven games, because that’s how the Rangers do things. Only Brianna seems to agree with me on this.

Mike went in the direction I almost did, picking the Lightning in five since he picked the Hurricanes in five in the last round. Roberto, Tom U., and Leighann are even more optimistic than Brianna and I are, as they think the Rangers will close out the Lightning in six games. Jack and Kevin, however, see the Rangers’ run ending in this series.

Who Will Be the Series MVP?

Tom D.: Mika Zibanejad. I could have easily gone with Igor Shesterkin here, but Zibanejad has caught fire in these playoffs, as has the Rangers’ power play. The two are clearly related, and I expect the Rangers’ top center will continue to pile up the points — he has 19 through 14 postseason games — and lead the way offensively for New York.

Tom U.: Going outside the box and picking Filip Chytil. I think the Kid Line is going to have a larger role in this series, and they will have an opportunity to be a difference maker vs. Tampa while the attention is on the top-end players. Chytil was the best forward, in my opinion, vs. the Hurricanes, and I feel like he is going to have a big series.

Mike: Jon Cooper. I’m not going to lie, I just thought this sounded smart so I’m going with that. I think he’s a better coach than Gerard Gallant, and I think coaching matters quite a bit more in the postseason than it does in the regular season. I think Gallant has his hands full in this series. The on-the-ice answer is Igor. If the Rangers get through this series and get to the Final, he should have a Conn Smythe. He’s the Rangers’ best chance of pulling off an upset.

Kevin: Tampa Bay’s medical staff

Jack: Andrei Vasilevskiy. It’s funny how an entire narrative can shift over the results of a few games. Through the first five games of the playoffs, Vasilevskiy was sporting a .900 save percentage with his team in a 3-2 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Lightning won Game 6 in overtime to send the series back to Toronto for a decisive Game 7, and Vaslievskiy has been on a massive heater since then. Tampa Bay’s goaltender has stopped 181 of the last 185 shots he’s faced over the last five games, the Game 7 victory in Toronto followed by a four-game sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers. Had the Lightning lost Game 6 against Toronto, Vasilevskiy’s poor play would have been the biggest storyline to come out of their playoff exit. Five games later, he’s the hottest goaltender in the league.

Leighann: Mika Zibanejad. It’s the easy answer but it’s the right one. He has dominated the power play and had a part in most key goals during the playoffs. Even if it’s just so he can continue jumping into Chris Kreider’s arms every time, he will be scoring more goals.

Roberto: Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers’ number-one center turned up the heat and helped the underdog Rangers power through the second round. Having scored four goals in three games against the Lightning in the regular season, Zibanejad already has a taste for success against the Lightning, and there is no doubt in my mind he’s looking for more.

Brianna: Jumping on the bandwagon and going with Mika Zibanejad! He has 11 points in games when the Rangers are facing elimination in this season’s playoffs. He had assists on both of Chris Kreider’s goals and Andrew Copp’s empty-netter during Monday’s Game 7. The number-one center produces wherever Gallant has put him throughout the season. This is his playoff opportunity to make a name for himself in the, which he’s done a pretty good job of so far.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Seven Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Who/What Will Be the Biggest X-Factor?

Tom D.: Artemiy Panarin. The Rangers’ most gifted offensive talent and leading point-getter in the regular season has not been himself for most of these playoffs. Sure, the point totals are pretty good (4-7-11 in 14 games), and he was the overtime hero in Game 7 against the Penguins, but Panarin has not been consistent as a driving, creative force who is dangerous on every shift. There’s some fan speculation that he is nursing an injury — the same one that held him out of the Blueshirts’ final two regular-season games — but the good news is that he started to show a bit more life in the last two games of the Carolina series. If he can get back to his old self, or at least closer to it, then that will be huge for the Rangers, who have managed to eke out two series victories without a peak Panarin.

Another key factor worth mentioning on the Lightning side is the status of Brayden Point — i.e., if/when he will return to action following his lower-body injury suffered in Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Lightning get him back in the lineup this series, that makes them much more difficult to beat. If not, the Rangers stand a chance to match up reasonably well against them, at least among forwards.

Tom U.: K’Andre Miller. He’s a really good skater who is going to be tested, and there could be opportunities where the Rangers may have to generate offense after making defensive stops. Miller’s confidence has grown as the playoffs have continued, and with most of the attention being on Adam Fox, Miller has a chance to step up and be a true X-factor.

Mike: Tampa Bay’s discipline and penalty killing. The Rangers’ power play was a force to be reckoned with against Carolina.

Kevin: The Kid Line. They’ve been the Rangers’ most consistent line this postseason and have passed every test put in front of them. Tampa’s depth and experience are going to be the final exam for the children, and if they can pass that test, the big boys should be able to capitalize.

Jack: The goaltending battle. When a series gets hyped up as being something, it turns out to be the opposite plenty of times. While the storyline of the Western Conference Final centers around the high-flying offense of Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid, Igor Shesterkin vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy, arguably the top two goalies in the world, is the main attraction here. Both teams have star power galore outside of the crease, but both goalies knowing one mistake of their own could decide the game sets up a fascinating matchup.

Leighann: Igor Shesterkin. This is undoubtedly going to be the goaltender battle of the century, and if Shesterkin is as locked in as he was against Carolina, I don’t think there’s any stopping him. Mika will play great, and the kids will play great, but Igor will be the difference maker for better or for worse (for my sanity, let’s hope better).

Roberto: The Kid Line. If Gallant can stay out of their way and let Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko stay together, their tenacious play will cause some trouble for the Lightning. This line’s success has given the Rangers three skilled scoring lines, which would be a headache for any team to effectively shut down.

Brianna: Igor is the Rangers’ last line of defense as they go up against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs and their great goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy. Igor will be facing a well-rested group of players who are eager for a three-peat. He had a little bit of a rocky start to the playoffs, but with each appearance has grown as a goalie. During the regular season he was was 3-0-0 with a .958 save percentage plus a 1.30 goals-against average against the Lightning. In my opinion, which doesn’t count for much, he is usually the best Ranger on the ice, and he will not go down this series without a good fight.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Seven Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Who/What Are We Most Confident In?

Tom D.: A pretty vanilla answer here, but I’m most confident in what’s been the Rangers’ bread and butter all season: Igor Shesterkin and a top-notch power play. Shesterkin returned to form in a big way against the Hurricanes following a very uneven series against the Penguins. He posted an incredible .949 save percentage, stopping 222 of 234 shots. I.e., the Hurricanes averaged under two goals per game in the series. I expect Shesterkin to continue to play at a high level. The Rangers also won the special teams battle against Carolina, demonstrating why I called it out as an X-factor ahead of the series. They were 7-for-21 on the power play, while Carolina was just 2-for-18 (although they did burn the Rangers for two shorthanded goals, which, not coincidentally, came in games they won). The Rangers now face a Lightning team that has been great on the penalty kill in these playoffs, but we just saw what the Rangers’ did to Carolina’s great PK unit. New York’s power play is clicking, and they should have no shortage of opportunities against another team that can be prone to penalties (their 304 minors in the regular season where the third-most in the league).

Tom U.: The Rangers’ depth is something I am a little more confident about now, especially since it looks like some players have worked their way through injuries. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Sammy Blais makes a return at some point, and that would give the team some extra length against a Tampa team which isn’t as stacked as it has been in years prior. I think the bottom-six battles will be intriguing, and am confident the Rangers will be prepared to keep pace with the Bolts.

Mike: Dare I say the line? I love the Kid Line. I love how they are just doing their thing and playing to their skill. I’m confident that they will be fun to watch, that much I’m sure of. Other than that, I’ll go with Adam Fox. Fox has very quietly been brilliant. I don’t expect anything less than brilliance out of him in this series. It’s as sure a thing as Ryan Lindgren bleeding at this point.

Kevin: The Power of Love. There is something around this team that is keeping them from succumbing to the odds that is seemingly beyond just Igor Shesterkin. Kreidbanejad is real, and this team has forged some incredible bonds during this run.

Jack: As hyped up as the Lightning are (as they should be; they’ve won more consecutive playoff series than any team since the early 80s Islanders as of now), the personnel the teams have appear pretty similar on paper. The goaltending matchup is the headline, with both teams starting all-world goalies in this series. Brayden Point will miss the start of the series, but Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are very much the equals of Artemiy Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad. Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman are franchise-level blueliners capable of going toe-to-toe with Adam Fox and the emerging K’Andre Miller. Ryan Reaves is a detriment every time he hops over the boards, and while Patrick Maroon and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare aren’t that level of helplessness, they’re not players that put fear into you when they’re on the ice. Tampa seems to be a team greater than the sum of its parts, but the same can be said about the Rangers based on their performance against Carolina.

Leighann: As weird as it sounds, I’m confident in the confidence. The Rangers just walked into Raleigh, scored first, had PNC chanting in favor of the Rangers, and came away with a 6-2 win in a series mostly everyone thought they wouldn’t even make it to. How much more audacity could a team have heading into a series with Tampa Bay? They’ve already played with a chip on their shoulder and nothing to lose this whole time. I’m much more afraid of that team than I am a team going for a three-peat.

Roberto: There are certainly a few players I could name here but what I’m most confident in is the bond this team has forged. They all truly believe in each other and their ability to win any game. A lot of folks thought they didn’t stand a chance against Carolina, and even fewer think they have what it takes to beat Tampa Bay, but this team won’t give up, and most importantly, they play for each other. Any game is winnable with this mentality.

Brianna: Aside from Igor, the Kid Line has proved themselves time and time again in these past two series. They have played aggressively and held their own. During the third period of Monday’s Game 7, they created a scoring opportunity that led to an important Chytil goal, just when the Hurricanes thought they might gain some wind. Lafrenière, Chytil, and Kakko have combined their separate skill sets to be really impactful, stepping up when it felt like the rest of the team was falling flat. Gallant needs to keep them intact moving into the Eastern Conference Final, because their energy creates something special on the ice.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Seven Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

Who/What Are We Most Worried About?

Tom D.: The Lightning have recent championship experience, a world-class goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, (really the only one in the league who realistically nullifies the Rangers’ advantage in net), extremely skilled forwards like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, and a strong blue line headlined by Victor Hedman. That’s a lot to worry about, but the young Rangers have made it this far — including just beating a team that I felt was an even worse matchup for them — so it’s clear that not much fazes them.

For the Rangers themselves, the ability to generate consistent five-on-five offense is always a concern to some degree. Finishing on whatever chances they do get will be extra-difficult against Vasilevskiy. But if they can continue to generate high-danger looks on the power play and convert those, they’ll give themselves a chance even if the five-on-five offense isn’t elite.

Tom U.: The Rangers are amped up right now after playing a pair of elimination games, and will be going right into the thick of it. Once the adrenaline and vibes of the series win wane, there could be a slight hangover effect. There are a number of players who aren’t used to this much hockey in a season, and fatigue is something they could encounter. It is why I feel the team’s chances of winning a Stanley Cup are tied to this being a bit of a short series (five games) so they can get some rest. That said, while I do think the Rangers are tired, they have an opportunity to get off to a quick start against a rested Tampa team. Rest is important during the playoffs, but an extended layoff can sometimes result in a team taking a bit to get back to speed. If the Rangers can continue their success on home ice, it will give them more control over the series, but we will see pretty quickly how their speed matches up to Tampa.

Mike: Andrei Vasilevskiy. There are very few goalies who are in the same tier as Igor, but Vasilevskiy is absolutely one of them. He is, undoubtedly, the biggest riddle the Rangers have been asked to solve in this postseason. I think of all the playoff games where the Rangers were buried in the shot share but found a way to win because of quality scoring chances and power plays, and I wonder how that recipe will work against Tampa and its star Russian goalie.

Kevin: It’s Tampa Bay. The Lightning seemingly took offense to the fact that Toronto took them to seven games in the opening round and decided to take it out on Florida. Now, they’ve had time to rest up and get guys as healthy as possible. The Rangers are playing with house money right now, but an angry and rested Tampa Bay determined to three-peat might be a bit too much.

Jack: Fatigue. The Rangers played their first game of the playoffs on May 3 and have played 14 total games. Aside from two days between Game 7 against Pittsburgh and Game 1 against Carolina, they’ve never had more than a single day out of game action. Thanks to their second-round sweep of the Panthers, the Lightning haven’t played in eight days and have had plenty of time for players to rest up and heal any bumps and bruises they’ve accumulated. There’s always some debate as to whether or not too much rest is a bad thing during the playoffs versus staying in the flow of a routine, but I’m sure New York’s players would have liked some of the excess rest Tampa got after back-to-back seven-game series.

Leighann: Vasilevskiy. As much as Hockey Twitter is using it as a “gotcha,” it is true that the Rangers haven’t faced a true starting goaltender yet in these playoffs (except for one game against an injured Tristan Jarry). To face their first “real starter” in a series against Tampa with the best goaltender in the world? Well, no one can say the Rangers don’t have a flair for the dramatics, that’s for sure. The Rangers can’t expect to score without earning it. Let’s just hope they do.

Roberto: Tampa’s goaltending matches up with the Rangers’. Vasilevskiy is considered by many, if not most, to be the best goalie in the world. The Igor advantage may finally be ending here, and the Rangers will need to earn this one the hard way.

Brianna: I’m most worried about facing Vasilevskiy. As I said in the previous roundtable, I put all my trust in Igor when he hits the ice. However, Vasilevskiy was great against the Panthers and only allowed them three goals in the four games — the Panthers being the NHL’s highest-scoring regular-season team. He is regarded as the best goalie and is the first starting goalie the Blueshirts will have to face too.

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

We’ve shared our thoughts. Who do you think will win this series, and in how many games?

Poll

Who will win this series?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Rangers in 4
    (6 votes)
  • 7%
    Rangers in 5
    (43 votes)
  • 30%
    Rangers in 6
    (181 votes)
  • 35%
    Rangers in 7
    (209 votes)
  • 0%
    Lightning in 4
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    Lightning in 5
    (39 votes)
  • 15%
    Lightning in 6
    (92 votes)
  • 2%
    Lightning in 7
    (13 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now