Thoughts on the NHL Eastern Conference Finals: Lightning vs Rangers
Lightning lead the series 2-1
The Triplets Coming Out Party
Thinking about the Tampa Bay Lightning usually conjures an image of Steven Stamkos. He’s their undisputed best player, their talisman, their leader. As he goes, so do the fortunes of the Lightning. And yet even though he’s collected 4 points in the first 3 games of the series, he’s been overshadowed by the play of the line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who’ve supplied 8 of the Lightning’s 13 goals so far this round. Lightning coach John Cooper has dubbed them “The Triplets” because of their similar size (small), speed (very fast) and incredible skill level. Their speed in particular gave the Rangers fits, opening holes and causing odd man rushes throughout the game with a devastating forecheck. Game 3 was particularly evident, as they combined for 7 points and Kucherov scored the game winner in OT to give the Lightning a 6-5 win in a wild game. The Kucherov goal was a beauty. He came through the neutral zone with speed on the right side, attacked the slot in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was surrounded by 4 defenders that had no idea what to do with him, and he fired a shot past Lundqvist. Each of them are capable of outstanding individual efforts like this and they also play so well together, making them extremely dangerous. The Triplets line combined with Stamkos has made the Tampa offense a joy to watch if you’re a neutral fan. And if you’re a Rangers fan? They’ve been a nightmare.
King Henrik Dethroned
Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL. Henrik Lundqvist has not played like it the past two games. He’s given up 12 goals in games 2 and 3 combined, the same amount he gave up in the ENTIRE last series against the Capitals. In Game 2 he gave up 6 goals on 26 shots for a paltry .760 save percentage. I can’t imagine how concerning that must be for Rangers fans who are used to Lundqvist being their rock when all else fails. New York’s defensive collapse can’t just be blamed on goaltending however, they’ve been a mess in their own zone. Particularly in Game 3, when they gave up 40 shots, and were routinely victimized by the speed of the Lightning. While the Rangers offense did get going in Game 3 scoring 5 goals, Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonagh (who were each -2 in Game 3) and the rest of the Rangers D-core have to get their house in order before Game 4 or else they’ll be heading back to Madison Square Garden on the brink of elimination. The Rangers cannot afford to waste great offensive games from a team that’s scored 3 or more goals in a game only 4 times in 15 playoff games so far.