In the spring of 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers faced each other in the Eastern Conference final. The two teams, at the time, were in very different places – Lightning was just beginning to emerge as a trophy hope with John Cooper at the helm, while the Rangers were desperate to keep their window open.
Seven years later, these clubs meet on the same stage again. It is fitting that they took two very different paths here. Lightning arrives as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, while Rangers are off a full slate and front desk repair since their last ride to this point.
This year, the Rangers have outpaced Tampa in all three regular season encounters, and they play a particularly exciting type of hockey game—their best games come when their backs are against the wall. In the meantime, Lightning has made it through the second round and had plenty of time to rest… and we’re about to find out if that’s a good thing or not.
Although their paths to getting here are different, these teams show a lot of similarities: We’re about to witness a clash between two high-ranking attacks whose arsenal is deep and includes some impressive team specials. But perhaps most importantly, we’re about to find out what happens when a Lightning match faces a goalkeeper who could be as good as them.
Seven years ago, it was Lightning who finished first, sending the Rangers packing into Madison Square Garden in Game 7 and effectively shutting out this core’s last chance to win. What story will this series tell?
Here’s what you need to know about this Eastern Conference final between Tampa Bay and New York.
Face to face recording
What we learned about lightning
Successive Stanley Cup champions are still hungry, once again proving that they can defeat clubs by any means.
Against the Maple Leafs, the attack was in full display before Andrei Vasilevskiy (almost completely) shuts the door in Game 7. Against Florida, Vasilevskiy was like a brick wall, with lightning stifling the attack of the once powerful Panthers.
Against Rangers, who pride themselves on attacking in spades and the goalkeeper also capable of stealing matches, they may need to implement both.
The team’s success through two rounds of play follows a model similar to what it has been in the past two years, relying on an elite attack led by Nikita Kucherov, a clever blue streak with Victor Hedman at the helm, a solid group of scorers making depth. He can bring skill when the top lines are tied, and other global goals from 2021 Conn Smythe winner Vasilevskiy. There are even similarities in their hurdles – two years ago, the team had to play almost the entire qualifying round without captain Stephen Stamkos. This year, it’s Brayden Point who’s wasting time. A point missed the entire second round after sustaining an injury in Game Seven against Toronto. It’s not yet clear if Point will ever be available in this conference final, but don’t be optimistic.
Overall, they’ve been a lot more exciting this year than previous qualifiers at this point in time, John Cooper, head coach of the technical director, said. Reducing the burden from bumps and bruises is once again the depth the team has. Having mid-six acquisitions like Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul, who have already dressed up alongside the likes of Ondrej Palat, Corey Perry and Ross Colton, have proven well worth the trade costs, and as the depth is still being tested, they’ll likely continue to look quite big As did the club’s former third-line trio of Yanni Grody, Barkley Goudreau and Blake Coleman before.
The bigger question here isn’t really about lineup or playing style – it’s the age-old debate over comfort versus rust – something they didn’t deal with in the first two rounds of the Team Cup.
So their defeat was quick for the Panthers, and they found themselves with more than a week of rest between series considering Rangers need a full seven games to beat the Hurricanes.
“It’s a little different, actually. We’ve had a pretty good run here over the past decade and unfortunately I’ve been on the sweep – bad finish – a few times, but I’ve never been on the good end. It was this one,” Cooper said during his appearance yesterday. a little different for us.” Jeff Maric Show last week.
“I don’t know if I like having that huge break, just because yeah, you can get kind of a physical side of it to try to heal as much as possible, but as far as there’s this mental side you worry about edge and fighting and all those things that, of course, You only lose it when you have a lot of time,”
We’re about to get our answers.
What we learned about Rangers
Striker Chris Kreider is better known for scoring goals than his post-game vocals, but he summed up Rangers’ post-season efforts perfectly after New York’s Game 7 win against the Carolina Hurricane Monday night:
“We are not going away.”
That’s right, they didn’t. They didn’t go against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had them on the verge of elimination for three straight games in the first round; And they were not against hurricanes, who put them where they wanted – at home! – In the second round of Game Seven, Carolina lost their first home loss in the playoffs. In two rounds, New York played five playoffs, including two 7, and claimed victory each time thanks to clutch performances throughout the lineup.
Leading the attack in these must-win matches is Mika Zibani Nejad, who scored four goals and scored 11 points in five playoffs and decided series, and Kreider, who twice made multi-goal matches in these matches, including two goals. To seal the deal Monday night against hurricanes. In terms of defense, Adam Fox leads the way – he’s been exciting all season, but at his best in the toughest situations, scoring 10 points in five brinkmanship games. Fox leads all defensemen in goals (five) and points (13) through two innings and also leads all of their NHL peers (with eight or more NHL games to their name) in an icy average time, with 26:48 per night.
Of course, we cannot talk about the clutch without paying tribute to Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin was shaky at times in the first round against Pittsburgh—and boy, did the fans out there tell him—but it’s become pretty evident since he’s been back in his comfort zone. His comfort zone feels like high-risk situations, with 30+ discs flying in his face every night, is music to Rangers’ ears. Chesterkin, the favorite to win the Vezina Cup this year thanks to his regular season championships, has surged to New York in the biggest positions. The young goalkeeper has faced 100 more shots than the next busiest goalkeeper (Mike Smith, with 411 in the post-season so far) yet posted the second-best save percentage among goalkeepers who witnessed the action in two rounds (0.928).
The goalkeeper is currently setting the pace just like the man he’s going to face across the ice, at Vasilevskiy. (More on this goalkeeper match later.)
5 on 5 numbers match via Natural Stat Trick
PLAYOFF team stats
The Lightning Agent: Andrei Vasilevsky
Once again Vasilevsky is in playoff mode. After struggling at times in the first round against the Maple Leafs, Lightning goalkeeper Conn Smythe-caliber is back on Vezina’s merit, having scored just four goals in his past five matches starting in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs. He carried the Panthers only three goals, in total – one per game in the first three games of the second round – before taking them out completely in the fourth game.
Rangers had to contend with some impressive goalkeeping performances but haven’t yet proven themselves in de facto No. 1 – injuries prompted the Penguins to rotate their flex and switch to third-placed rider Luis Domingo, while similar concerns saw Carolinas take part. Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov at times, with Ante Ranta taking over the wrinkle without regular season player Fredrik Andersen.
New York has risen to every challenge, every goalie eventually solved, but no one has a proven track record from Vasilievsky’s finals.
Rangers X-Factor: Igor Shesterkin
So, how does Vasilevskiy solve? You probably can’t – maybe the only way to defeat him is to match him from saves to saves, and the only goalkeeper who could possibly be able to do that is Shesterkin.
It might be a bit obvious to point to the objective as the most important story in the series, but often we don’t get a match like this elite. If you were to manually pick a goalie match for a high-stakes playoff series, it would be last year’s winner for Conn Smith in Tampa Bay and this year’s favorite for Vezina – and rival Conn Smythe himself – in New York.
Shesterkin has been amazing over the course of the regular season, and the biggest reason the club entered post-season. Although he struggled in the first round, he found his step and plays the kind of bragging that made for Broadway. He’s busier, and the higher the stakes, the better he’s playing – he’s stood on top in five playoffs already this season, and against Carolina in the second round, he’s really found his step. He scored a combined 0.949 save on 78 shots in games 6 and 7 to push New York into the ECF.