Saturday Afternoon Fever
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
Eastern Conference Finals
Tampa Bay Lightning
NEW YORK RANGERS
33rd Street @ 8th Avenue
NEW YORK RANGERS: The Best of Frienemies..
Regardless whether you spent your hard earned cash and bought one, or received one for your birthday, or as a gift for Christmas, there are many Rangers fans with a Ryan Callahan jersey hanging in their closet.
- For the moment, that's problematic. Twenty years from now, not so much.
Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman put in very admirable work for the Rangers as well.
That being said, I like to think that after the opening face-off, there are no such things as friends.
There's nothing wrong with a healthy respect for one's opponent, but, ti's the season for adversaries, enemies and foes.
Ryan Callahan (appendicitis aside) has actually been a minor contributor for the Lightning. In 12 post-season games he has registered a mere 3 assists. However, Callahan was acquired to add a respectable measure of front line toughness and grit, as the Tampa Bay Lightning are a less physical team than say the Washington Capitals, or the Rangers teams Callahan played for.
Under Barry Trotz, the Capitals executed a system right out of the John Tortorella manual, but the Bolts more closely mirror the Rangers under Alain Vigneault. That makes Callahan's individual performance against the Rangers quite intriguing.
The Lightning swept the season series 3-0, and outscored them by a 15-7 margin. However, all three games came before New Year's, when the eventual President Trophy winners were still languishing with an 11-9-4 record.
I - (Nov. 17) T.B. 5; NYR 1
II - (Nov.26) T.B. 4; NYR 3
III - (Dec. 1) T.B. 6; NYR 3
In Game One, Ryan Callahan scored a power play, and an even strength goal.
In Game Two, a power play goal, an even strength goal, and an assist.
He had a negligible impact on Game Three.
For his part, Martin St. Louis has 4 assists in 12 post-season games. Three came against the Capitals. He, like Callahan, has yet to score a goal in the playoffs. But in three regular season meetings against the Bolts, St. Louis scored power play goals in Game One and Three.
Callahan finished the regular season with 24 goals and 30 assists. St. Louis finished with 21 goals and 31 assists. It would seem, then, the only real difference between the two would be their age.
Martin St. Louis did have his chances against the Capitals. Opportunities presented themselves. He was simply fire-walled by Braden Holtby like so many other Blueshirts.
On Saturday afternoon, the fans of Madison Square Garden will be cheering and encouraging Martin St. Louis, like they used to for Ryan Callahan, whom is now the enemy.
* * * *
There is no getting around the fact Tampa can score goals, and score in bunches. The Bolts led the NHL with a 3.16 goals per game average. They presently have three skaters with double-digit points, while Tyler Johnson leads the post-season with 8 goals. By contrast, the Rangers have only two skaters with 8 total points, but, were one of only three NHL teams (T.B., DAL) to average three goals or better per game this season.
- In 13 games played, the Bolts average 2.62 goals per game. The Rangers are averaging exactly 2 goals per, over 12 games played.
Over two rounds of hockey, Tampa's best line (Ondrej Palat/Tyler Johnson/Nikita Kucherov) has produced what it has taken two Rangers' lines to produce. In 13 games, they've combined on 17 goals and 14 assists, for 31 points. Obviously, that does not account for Steven Stamkos or Ryan Callahan.
The Rangers line of Jesper Fast/Derek Stepan/Chris Kreider combined on 9 goals and 8 assists, for 17 points in 12 games. The Rick Nash/Martin St. Louis/Derick Brassard line has combined on 7 goals and 12 assists for 17 points. That's 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points in 12 games.
During the first half of the season, Steven Stamkos and Rick Nash ran neck and neck for the NHL lead in goals, that is, until Alex Ovechkin overtook them both. Both forwards have struggled to score goals in the playoffs. Stamkos has 3 goals and 7 assists in 13 games, while Nash has 2 goals and 5 assists in 12 games.
The Rangers power play, then, must become a decisive factor. I believe they'll get ample opportunities because the Lightning will commit penalties. Tampa finished 13th in the league in penalty minutes, averaging nearly 10 minutes per game. The Rangers were 3 for 20 against the Penguins, and 3 for 18 against the Caps. That's 6 for 38, good for a 15.8% rate of efficiency. They'll have to do better this series if they want to hang with the Bolts, who's penalty kill finished the season 7th best.
Tampa's power play finished the season 14th best. In the post-season, the unit has either scored in bunches, or not at all. They were just 2 for 30 in the first round against Detroit, but were 7 for 20 in the second round against Montreal. In two rounds they totaled 9 for 50, good for an 18% effective rate. The Rangers had better keep their eye on Nikita Kucherov who leads Tampa with 5 points on special teams. The Rangers penalty kill was ranked 6th best in the league.
Ben Bishop vs. Henrik Lundqvist
- Goalie Ben Bishop was one of only four goalies to post 40 or more victories this season. He appeared in 62 games, and posted a 40-13 record, with a .916 SV%, and a 2.32 GAA. In Round Two against the Canadiens, he allowed 13 goals in 6 games for a .940 SV%, and owns a .931 SV% for the playoffs.
- No team has allowed less goals in this year's playoffs than the New York Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist should still be fresh, despite an exhaustive series against the Capitals. He only appeared in 43 regular season games, and posted a 30-13-3 record, with a .922 SV%, and a 2.25 GAA. He allowed 12 goals in 7 games to the Caps. In 12 games, Henrik has a .944 SV% and a 1.60 GAA.
This will be a series of New York Rangers experience versus Tampa Bay's inexperience. We'll see how much that works in the Blueshirt's favor.
And lastly, how about the Rangers win some face-offs, aye? Even if they have to put Dominic Moore out there, then have him rush off the ice.... The Rangers need puck possession against the Lightning.
Otherwise, it's time. Let the games begin.