The New York Rangers are set to host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. They have quite the challenge ahead of themselves. They face off against the two-time Stanley Cup defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers and Lightning both finished the regular season with 110 points, but New York owns the tie-breaker. That could be the difference in what is sure to be a great series.
Both teams have faced elimination games and plenty of adversity this postseason. The Lightning have been without home ice in either of their first two series’. They won a Game 7 in Toronto in the opening round. Tampa Bay then easily defeated the President’s Trophy winning Florida Panthers.
Meanwhile, the Rangers erased a 3-1 series deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. Then New York went into Carolina and handed them their first home defeat in the playoffs in Game 7. Neither team will lack for confidence in this series. So, let’s get into my three bold predictions for the Rangers in their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
New York Rangers 3 Bold Predictions for Eastern Conference Finals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
1. Rangers Power Play Make A Big Difference
New York’s special teams have made a big difference during the playoffs thus far. They lead all playoff teams with 13 power play goals and trail only the Colorado Avalanche in power play percentage. New York has capitalized on 32.5 percent of their odd man situations. This was particularly true in their second-round series against the Hurricanes.
The Rangers score a power play goal for a third-straight game with Mika Zibanejad collecting his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Zibanejad's 15 points (6G-9A) are tied for third in the NHL in these playoffs.
— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) May 26, 2022
During their Game 7 victory Monday night, the Rangers scored two power play goals in the first period. That was a lead they would never relinquish as they would go on to win 6-2.
However, this series will pit strength against strength. The Lightning thus far in the postseason have killed off 87.5 percent of their penalty kill opportunities. That ranks third in the playoffs. The top two teams, the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars were both eliminated in the first round. So, it’s hard to really count them.
But it’s pretty clear that special teams are going to play a crucial role in who reaches the Stanley Cup Finals.
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2. Igor Shesterkin Outplays Andrei Vasilevsky
Another obvious part of this series that will very likely be important is the goaltending. The Rangers have Igor Shesterkin in net. He was named as one of the finalists for this season’s Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie. Shesterkin finished the regular season 36-13 with a 2.07 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. Those are incredible numbers.
Rangers vs. Lightning matchups: Goaltending, defensive battles key https://t.co/8MWnszDks9 pic.twitter.com/SDTIKTs1LV
— New York Post (@nypost) May 31, 2022
He has not been nearly as efficient in these playoffs. However, he turned it on late in the second round and I expect him to continue that momentum. During the seven games against Carolina, Shesterkin allowed a total of 13 goals. That’s less than two goals per game. All of that talk about him not playing well was clearly overstated.
The Rangers defeated the Lightning in all three matchups this season. In two of those games, Shesterkin played out of his mind. He earned a 4-0 shutout on January 2nd, stopping all 38 shots. Then in March, Shesterkin beat the Lightning 2-1, stopping 25 of 26 shots.
It’s not going to be easy to outperform his opponent. The Lightning goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is equally exceptional. Ironically, the Russian goalie is the player that Shesterkin has openly talked about looking up to as a young player. Now, he gets his chance to beat him for a chance at the Stanley Cup.
3. Rangers Defeat The Lightning to Advance to Stanley Cup Finals
Despite holding home ice advantage, not many people are giving the Rangers much of a shot in this series. I am not one of them. This New York team showed all season that they were one of the best teams in hockey. They are big, physical and play excellent defense.
Over the last two plus post seasons, the Lightning have been used to have two major advantages. Those being goaltending and special teams. However, this time, they very well might find themselves on the short ends of those sticks. It has been over 25 years since the Rangers last reached the Stanley Cup Finals. I believe their time is finally here to play for the Cup.