Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Rangers vs. Lightning

Eight wins down … eight more to go. With the Stanley Cup puzzle that is hanging up in their locker room half completed, the New York Rangers are now setting their sights on their third round series agains the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York has made this postseason one to definitely remember, but also one to send any fan to the cardiologist. 

They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in five games (4-1). It was a tough, hard fought series that was a great test for the Rangers. They ultimately prevailed and moved on to their other next division rivals, the Washington Capitals. The Capitals were coming off a hard hitting and physical see game series against the New York Islanders.

After the two teams split the games at Madison Square Garden, the series shifted back to Washington, where the Capitals won both games, taking a 3-1 series lead, leaving the Rangers in a bit of a familiar predicament. They were down 3-1 in their second round series last year agains the Penguins and came back to win the series for the first time in franchise history. With heroic and timely goals by Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and the Game 7 winning goal by Derek Stepan, New York has become the first team in league history to trail a series 3-1 and come back to win in consecutive seasons.

With their third trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in four years, the only team standing in their way now is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team has a few familiar faces (Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman). During the regular season, the Lightning swept the series 3-0. However, these games were back in November, and both teams have completely changed.

Martin St. Louis and Ryan Callahan will be facing each other after being swapped last season at the trade deadline. St. Louis has certainly struggled this postseason, but maybe playing his old team will reignite his spark. Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle return to face the team they helped bring to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis were also teammates back in 2004 when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup.

The Bolts are coming out of a 6 game series against the Montreal Canadiens. It was a tough match-up but the Lightning’s speed and skill were too much for Montreal. Tampa has an offensive minded team and any line can do damage. They will go against the defensive mentality of the Rangers. It can be a low scoring series, but both team have enough caliber to bury pucks in the net.

We can expect Henrik Lundqvist to once again, be lights in this series. He recently joined Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy as the only goalies with six Game 7 wins. He has a .944 save percentage and a 1.60 goals-against average. On the other side, this is the first crack at the playoffs for Tampa’s goalie, Ben Bishop. He has had goal help to make his job easier, but he still has racked up a. 931 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average.

The Lightning have a younger team do have a lot of players who lack playoff experience, but they have topped two great teams (Detroit Red Wings and Montreal) and are scoring a lot of goals. They are averaging 2.62 goals per game while the Rangers are averaging 2 goals per game. However, the experience and ability to shut teams down will have the Rangers preserving the lead when they need too.

This is going to be a fantastic fast-paced series that will heavily Rangers because of their speed. With the head coach being able to roll all four lines (even against the opposing team’s star players) the Rangers can contribution up and down the line up on all ends of the ice. It will not be an easy series, but with the experience and depth that New York possesses, they will undoubtedly win, but will go the distance.

The Rangers fell 3 wins short last season from the ultimate prize. They are hungry and out to change the ending of this season. They know they have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup and are a much better team this year. The President’s Trophy winning team has found ways to win all season long and continue doing so into the playoffs.

Prediction: New York Rangers in 7.

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