FullTilt Breakdown: Rangers vs. Lightning ECF

"Yes,

The two best teams in the Eastern Conference face-off for the right to go play for the Stanley Cup. Both of these teams have skill and depth, and while they both are solid defensively, neither will be clutching and grabbing. That means the Rangers will finally face a team that won’t try and beat them by “bending” the rules.

During the regular season, Tampa won every game played. However, the last time these two teams met was on 12/1/14. Since then the Rangers record is 42-13-3 to the Lightning’s 33-17-6 mark.

Here’s the series breakdown:

TBL v NYR (Sporting Charts)

TBL v NYR (Sporting Charts)

GOALTENDING

Ben Bishop owns the Rangers. There is no skirting around that fact. His lifetime record against them is an outstanding 8-0 1.49 GAA .946 SV% with 2 shutouts for emphasis. He is a huge goaltender that gives the Rangers fits. Beating him will be a “tall” task for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist (Getty)

Lundqvist (Getty)

On the opposite end stands one of the best goaltenders in the world to date. Henrik Lundqvist is about as good as it gets and as clutch as you want a goalie. His ability to track the puck and react is second to none in the league. He’s already beaten Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. In order for the Rangers to get back to the Stanley Cup Final he will need to stop Steven Stamkos and the #1 regular season ranked Lightning.

This is going to be another great goaltending duel. However, Lundqvist has been better in this postseason, while Bishop playing in his first ever has looked shaky at times. Will Bishop’s record get in the heads of the Rangers skaters? That’s the big question this series.

2015 Playoffs

Lundqvist: 8W – 4L, 1.60 GAA, .944 SV%

Bishop: 8W – 5L, 1.81 GAA, .931 SV%

Slight Edge – Rangers

OFFENSE

Stamkos (NHL)

Stamkos (NHL)

Steven Stamkos has heated up and that spells trouble for the Rangers. He started the postseason without scoring a goal in his first 8 contests. Since then he has notched 3 with 4 helpers in his last 5 games.

Of course, it was Tyler Johnson that helped carry the team while Stamkos was finding his way. Johnson has 8 goals in the post-season, although 6 came against the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round. Against Montreal, he had 5 points in 6 contests but only picked up an assist in his final three. Has he cooled off?

Nikita Kucherov has 6 goals and 11 points coming into this series and is another forward to watch. Ryan Callahan only has 3 assists these playoffs but was a thorn in NY’s side during the regular season. Brian Boyle, another former NYR only has 2 points.

For the Rangers, they aren’t exactly lighting it up this post-season and one of their big guns has remained silent with 0 goals. Martin St. Louis must be a factor in this series if the Rangers hope to advance. The loss of Mats Zuccarello to a concussion has not helped the Rangers offense but has allowed for some young players to step up.

Kevin Hayes has 2 goals this post season, one an OT winner. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast have also stepped up. While that is nice, the Rangers need Derek Stepan (8 PTS), Rick Nash (7 PTS) and Derick Brassard (8 PTS) to find another gear.

Edge – Lightning

DEFENSE

Victor Hedman is the big offensive threat on defense for the Lightning. He leads all Tampa blue-liners with 1G and 6PTS. Next up, his partner in crime Anton Stralman has 1G and 5PTS.

In total the Lightning defense has accounted for 6 goals. That’s pretty decent offense from the backline. The defense has a nice blend of skill and physicality which they get from Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison. What you should know is that while the top pairing is a plus 11 this post season, the rest of the group is a -3 with Coburn being a -6 alone.

Girardi (Getty)

Girardi (Getty)

NY’s defense is mobile and skilled. Their biggest asset as a group is the ability to make quick outlet passes to spring forwards for offense. The best of the bunch is Ryan McDonagh who has 2G and 6PTS, one being a huge OT win in game 5 to start the comeback against the Capitals.

Of course, the Rangers can play it tough as well. McDonagh’s defense partner, Dan Girardi has 48 blocked shots to go with his 4 helpers. Matter of fact it was his point shot that Stepan gathered to send the Rangers to the ECF.

The rest of the Rangers blue-line is stellar and deep as well. Marc Staal is a huge difference maker in his own end and Keith Yandle can transport the puck along with Dan Boyle to keep that balance between offense and defense.

Kevin Klein who came off a broken forearm late in these playoffs is also rounding into form. Meanwhile, Matt Hunwick is ready to step in and continue his contributions if needed.

New York’s defense is a +1 as 6 man group with the top pairing of McDonagh and Girardi at a +9. It will be on this top pairing to not only shut down Stamkos, but to generate some goals as well.

Edge – Rangers

SPECIAL TEAMS

Tampa has been given 50 power plays thus far in the playoffs. Don’t expect the Rangers to continue that trend. The Lightning do have 9 PPG’s, but the Rangers have 6 of their own.

Of course, we know that the Rangers PP, especially zone entries can be atrocious at times, yet they still find a way to score clutch PP goals. Kevin Hayes’ equalizer in game 7 last series is a prime example.

On the PK, the Rangers are just as good as it gets. They have only allowed 3 PPG’s this postseason and only 1 to the top rated Capitals. The Lightning have given up 6, and are the most penalized team remaining in the playoffs. As a side note, the Rangers are the least penalized.

2015 Playoffs

NYR PP% 15.8 PK% 89.3

TBL PP% 18.0% PK% 86.7

Slight Edge – Rangers

PREDICTION

Some serious questions have to be answered before this series even starts. Will Ryan Callahan who had an emergency appendectomy be able to go on Saturday? His status is currently day to day.

For the Rangers, can Mats Zuccarello make an appearance in this round? If so, the offensive lift would be huge for the Rangers. Of course, if Marty St. Louis can just get one goal it could open the floodgates.

Bottom line, this series is going to come down to Ben Bishop. If he plays to his career lifetime stats against the Blueshirts, the Lightning will find a way to win. Should nerves and jitters get to the big goalie, this series could be over quick in favor of the Rangers.

In the end, I believe the Rangers are too talented and determined to not get back to the Stanley Cup Final. They will get enough traffic in front and beat Bishop with rebounds and deflections to win this series.

NEW YORK RANGERS IN 6 GAMES!