Lightning coach is right, Rangers are ‘pain in ass’ to play against

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY SportsCredit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

If ever there was a team the New York Rangers would want to model itself after, it likely is the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom they play Thursday night at Amalie Arena.

After several seasons of knocking on the championship door, the Lightning learned that to break the door down, they needed to be more difficult to play against. High end skill and reliance on superior offensive talent only got the Lightning so far.

Of course, the Lightning figured things out, committed themselves to a better defensive structure and added some grit to the lineup. Tampa Bay put it all together and won the Stanley Cup two seasons in row and reached the Cup Final three consecutive years from 2020-22.

The Rangers could very well be on a similar path. And Lightning coach Jon Cooper admitted that the Blueshirts now have a key element in place.

“They’re a pain in the ass to play against,” Cooper said after the morning skate Thursday.

That just might be the highest compliment a championship-winning coach can bestow on another team.

“The one thing about the Rangers is that they just don’t give up a ton,” Cooper explained. “That’s the hard thing about playing against them. Even the last time we played them (Feb. 7), it was like a 3-1 game and … they’re hard to pierce. That’s a big challenge for us.”

Related: Rangers all-time top goalie tandems after Jonathan Quick extension

Rangers praised by Lightning coach Jon Cooper

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers are fourth in the NHL allowing 2.62 goals per game. A lot of the credit for that goes to goalies Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick. But a close look at the Rangers’ commitment to playing a full 200-foot game this season, reveals that there’s team-wide buy in to what it could take to become a Stanley Cup champion.

New York has been suffocating through the neutral zone for stretches this season. That takes commitment and is a major upgrade in their overall game from years past.

A great example of this was the Blueshirts’ 1-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Tuesday. There were times that it was an absolute gauntlet for the Hurricanes to navigate simply trying to reach the Rangers blue line. And once in New York’s zone, rarely did the Hurricanes have clean lanes to shoot through. The Rangers blocked 23 shots and altered many more.

Really, the Rangers beat the Hurricanes at their own game.

And when needed, Shesterkin was a wall, confidently making 28 saves for his second consecutive shutout.

“Much like any team in this League, when the goaltending is up to snuff, the team is doing pretty well, and I think they’re guy in net is showing that he’s one of the best in the game,” Cooper said. “And I think they follow the lead from him.”

That, of course, is not dissimilar to how the Lightning rode Andrei Vasilevskiiy to consecutive championships.

There’s a long way to go before we know if the Rangers are ready for this next massive step. But it’s clear they’ve put the NHL on notice this season, and the man considered by many to be the League’s top coach is impressed.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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