By: Nick Lanciani
2015 Eastern Conference Finals
Game 1 Saturday, May 16 1 PM EST on NBC
NYR- Round 1- defeated PIT in 5 games. Round 2- defeated WSH in 7 games. 3rd ECF finals appearance in 4 years (2012, 2014, and 2015).
TB- Round 1- defeated DET in 7 games. Round 2- defeated MTL in 6 games. 3rd ECF finals appearance in franchise history (2004, 2011, and 2015)- first time since 2011.
New York Rangers have home ice advantage.
Henrik Lundqvist is still searching for his first Stanley Cup. Yes, that’s hard to believe for a goalie of his caliber, but it’s true. He’s run into other teams on great runs, most notably the team the New York Rangers just beat on Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals. Some hockey writers argue that Braden Holtby has shown that he can be considered an elite goaltender.
He needs another year of performing just like he did this year to cement his status as a potential elite goaltender (fear not, Washington fans- before you bust out the fisticuffs- I think he is capable of doing it, he just needs one more year of stellar play to be considered elite).
But anyway, back to Lundqvist. He’s backstopped the New York Rangers and kept them in many games throughout the first couple of rounds of the playoffs and it seems as though they are beginning to understand now that you need to score in order to win. And scoring more than one goal is a good thing. Lundqvist has a .944 SV% and a 1.60 GAA in 12 games played so far, whereas Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, Ben Bishop, has a .931 SV% and a 1.81 GAA in 13 GP.
Both goaltenders have been superb. Bishop’s current run reminds me of Tim Thomas’s 2011 Stanley Cup run with the Boston Bruins in that he has been a large factor in Tampa’s game. The Lightning have had sparks of brilliance when all four lines and all three defensive pairs are rolling right along and things are absolutely fantastic to watch. The Triplet Line aside, the Lightning still have an incredible roster of youth, sprinkled in with some veteran talent and experience.
Also of note in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, there are numerous former Lightning players, now Rangers, and former Rangers, now Lightning, going head to head in this series. If that’s not enough alone to hype up, not only who won the trade (remember the Martin St. Louis fiasco?), but the sheer fact that those players were smart enough and lucky enough to leave one good team for another.
Despite the hype of the pure talent in the West, there is pure grit and heart in the East with amazing storylines of how careers came to be, were shaped, and how they currently are. St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and Dominic Moore all once spent time in Tampa. Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, and Anton Stralman have all spent time with the Rangers (please tell me you recall the St. Louis for Callahan trade now).
The Rangers are the current President’s Trophy champions are should show why they are, however have struggled to get the offensive power on full blast from a night to night basis. Their defense is solid and obviously their goaltending is the cream of the crop. Tampa, on the other hand, has leading goal scorer in the playoffs, Tyler Johnson, alongside the gifted goal scorer Steven Stamkos, and the rest of their powerful roster that can also score on any given night.
Tampa’s defense is similar to the Rangers, however Bishop certainly is no Lundqvist when it comes to the strength of their net. Should Bishop need to be pulled, Andrei Vasilevsky- A 20 YEAR OLD BACKUP GOALIE- certainly can play well, but is no match for New York’s backup, Cam Talbot (should Lundqvist have a rare off night when things count the most).
Forget Corsi in this series. Only three players (two from Tampa, one from New York) rank in the top 20 in the playoffs with at least 8 games played. But do remember goaltending, as New York ranks first in fewest goals against per game with 1.67 (Tampa ranks 5th with 2.15). Again, both goalies have left everyone in awe of their athleticism, but how will they respond facing even quicker teams than the ones they faced in the last round?
The Lightning have scored 2.62 goals for per game so far, meanwhile the Rangers only score about 2.00 goals for per game (15th out of the 16 teams in the playoffs, although technically they are tied for 13th, if that makes you feel better). Both penalty kills are evenly matched (NYR ranks 4th, TB ranks 6th) and as a matter of fact, so are their power play units (TB ranks 9th, NYR rank 11th).
No matter what, if the Rangers are going to win, they’re going to need their best players to start stepping up and holding their weight- Rick Nash. If the Lightning are going to win, they’re going to need to keep their momentum going and not get discouraged if Lundqvist robs them of a great scoring chance every now and then.