NHL Playoff Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers

NHL Playoff Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers

by June 1, 2022 0 comments

In a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning meet to find out who gets to play for the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are on a quest to be the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight in the early 1980s. At first, it did not look like the Lightning would make it past the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, but they were able to move on to face the Florida Panthers in the second round. The Lightning were able to dispatch the Panthers 4-0 efficiently and have been patiently awaiting the winner of the Carolina Hurricanes and Rangers series.

The Rangers have been the surprise team of the playoffs, if not the regular season. They have found themselves down, facing elimination, and have battled back to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hurricanes. The Rangers went the distance winning against each opponent in seven games. While at times they did not look like a complete playoff team, their players came through when needed the most. With the Rangers fresh off a Game 7 victory, they take on the well-rested Lightning. So, it will be interesting to see if momentum or rest will factor into who emerges victorious.

Make sure to check out all of our other Playoff Previews.

Goaltending

Fans should expect an exciting showdown between two of the best goaltenders in the league. While Igor Shesterkin is most likely the Vezina winner this season, Andrei Vasilevskiy has already been there and done that, winning the Vezina in 2018-19. Vasilevskiy has also hoisted the Stanley Cup twice and won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Vasilevskiy has started all 11 games for the Lightning, posting a .932 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.22 goals against average (GGA). Meanwhile, Shesterkin started all 14 games but was pulled in two of them in round one against Pittsburgh. Like Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin has eight wins in the playoffs and has come through for the Rangers when needed, posting a .928 SV% and a 2.68 GGA. Vasilevskiy’s record speaks for itself, but Shesterkin has only just begun to build his career in the NHL. It will be a battle fans won’t soon forget.

Defense

Along with other defensemen for the Lightning, Victor Hedman will need to keep doing what he has been doing. They have blocked shots and limited scoring chances, plus Hedman has 10 points in the playoffs, which is second on his team. Along with Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, they will need to create turnovers and help keep the puck in the Rangers’ end if they want to have an advantage. Controlling the game at a 5v5 will help limit any damage the Rangers might be able to do on the power play.

For the Rangers, Adam Fox will also need to continue to keep doing what he is doing. He, along with K’Andre Miller, Ryan Lindgren, and Jacob Trouba, need to work more to clear the puck out of their own end. The Rangers were one of the top defensive teams in the latter half of the regular season, but they have not been so great in the playoffs. If they can tighten up anything defensively, especially with limiting shots, now would be the time to implement it, especially against a team like Tampa Bay.

Special Teams

The Rangers are rolling along with a power play of 32.5% and a penalty kill of 80.5%. Meanwhile, the Lightning’s power play is at 22.9%, and their penalty kill is at 87.8%, despite it not being consistent. Even though the stats are similar, the Rangers are at their best on a power play. Tampa bay will need to stay out of the penalty box and not allow New York to do what they do best. Throughout the playoffs, the Rangers have taken penalties that could have been avoided. They need to play smart and not let the Lightning have the man advantage either.

Offense

Excluding Game 1 against Toronto, the Lightning have averaged 3.60 goals per game. Their offense has shown Tampa’s depth, with ten players who have multiple goals and seven players with game-winning goals. Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning in scoring with 15 points, and after that, three players (Ross Colton, Ondrej Palat, and Steven Stamkos) have eight points. It goes from there until the only two players who do not have a point are Jan Rutta and Vasilevskiy.

The Rangers have several top-end star players in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. The team has been criticized for not having enough depth, especially on the third and fourth lines, but as we see in the playoffs, the third line has come through at times. Filip Chytil has scored several nice goals, and New York is looking a little better with Barclay Goodrow back in the lineup. However, the Rangers really need their offensive firepower to step up, especially at even strength, to improve their chances of beating the Lightning, especially if Tampa Bay stays out of the penalty box.

Game-Breakers

Zibanejad leads New York with 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists), and he also has four power-play goals, which are tied for most in the playoffs. However, if the Rangers want a chance to get past the Lightning, Zibanejad will need to be even more of a clutch player than he has already been. He will need to take every opportunity he is given and shoot the puck.

The Lightning will need Kucherov to continue to be their best player. He will need more plays as he had in Game 1 against the Panthers. But, Kucherov will not just need more plays; they will need to be big ones. He is great at making it happen, and if the Lightning want to put a dagger in the heart of the Rangers, Kucherov is the one who could do it.

Coaching

Jon Cooper has taken the Lightning to the playoffs 8 out of 10 seasons. In three of those, they made it past the second round. He knows what it takes for a team to make it, and he can adapt it to whomever his team is playing. On the other side, this playoff run with the Rangers makes the fourth time Gerard Gallant has taken a team to the postseason. The closest he came to the cup was with the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017-18 season. Cooper has two Stanley Cups on his resume, and though Gallant has none, the way he has allowed the Rangers to grow as a team and overcome their shortcomings is something that should not be easily dismissed.

Series Prediction

The Rangers’ play is by no means perfect, and there are many bad habits they have in certain situations. So far in the playoffs, they have been able to overcome them, even if Shesterkin has been the one bailing them out at times. Many question how the Rangers will perform against a goalie who is not a backup. No one will know until the puck drops tonight. The Lightning appear to be on a roll to a three-peat, but with so much hockey in a short period of time over the last few seasons, can they keep it up?

Tampa can be beaten. Toronto proved that to everyone in the first round. The Rangers can win if they play smarter and shoot the puck more. It will be a hard-fought battle, but ultimately, the Rangers will spoil the Lightning’s chances at a third cup.

Series Prediction: New York 4-3


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