NEW YORK – The New York Rangers entered the Game 1 Final of the Eastern Conference with the adrenaline pumping continuing from Monday’s win at Game 7 in the Carolina Hurricanes. In contrast, Tampa Bay Lightning hit the ice for the first time since completing the sweep of the Florida Panthers on May 23.
They showed off their hairdos in the Rangers’ 6-2 match at Lightning Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
“There was a lot of sharpness [for us]. As we talked, our team kept working. “We had a day off, played a game, and it looked good for us tonight,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. They were obviously a bit rusty tonight. They were not the same, as they were nine days off. It makes a difference.”
His counterpart, John Cooper, pointed out this rust, too.
“Maybe we got a little tired as the match went on,” he said. “We haven’t played a game in a while here.” “But that’s no excuse on our part. I give the Rangers full marks in their game.”
Lightning players weren’t looking to use demobilization as a defense due to their lack of defense either.
“We certainly didn’t have our best,” said Lightning captain Stephen Stamkos. “That’s what it is. We’re not a group that’s going to use that as an excuse. We have to be better.”
The match was billed as a goalkeeping duel between Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the playoff MVP title for the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions last summer, and Igor Shesterkin of Rangers, who is expected to win the Vezina Cup as the league’s best title. Best goalkeeper this season.
Instead, Rangers scored more goals in one game than Vasilevsky conceded in his previous five matches combined.
New York was in a state of lightning from the first moments of the game, with Tampa Bay’s Chris Kreider scoring just 1:11 for his ninth place of the season. But Stamkos scored the equalizer at 7:18 from the first.
“The first goal is bad. But I thought we bounced well,” Cooper said. “But I think there are things we did tonight that we didn’t do much in the previous two rounds. Rangers have some dynamic players. You give them an inch, they take a mile.”
In the second half, striker Frank Vatrano raced back to break the odd man’s dash of lightning, and later fired a shot over Vasilevsky to take the lead. Lightning answered again, just 42 seconds later, on Ondrej Palat’s goal. But “Kid Lane” Rangers hit twice in just over five minutes to put New York ahead for good. Philip Sheetle scored both his sixth and seventh qualifiers, beating Vasilevsky at 10:09, then the Rangers finished over two minutes of offensive zone time with a surprising shot past Vasilevsky at 15:43.
The Rangers didn’t let up in the third half, scoring 30 seconds into the period with an Artemi Panarin shot and then firing for the first time in powerful play on Mika Zibanijad’s eighth goal in the playoffs.
“The Turk made them roll,” Cooper said of Galant and his team. “They weren’t so lucky on their way to where they are in the playoffs.”
Tampa Bay quarterback Victor Hedman said the Rangers are also a different team than the one that Lightning saw in the regular season.
“Yeah, a bit. They have strong goalkeepers, a good squad, some possessions we didn’t see in their shirts,” he said.
Lightning last faced Rangers on March 19, before the NHL trade deadline. Since then, New York has added forwards Andrew Cope and Tyler Mott, as well as defender Justin Brown. Rangers also found some clickable streak combinations in the post-season, such as ‘Kids’ streak’.
“You know, they’re rolling,” Hedman said. “After such a big win over Carolina, they were confident coming into tonight’s game. We were expecting that.”
Cooper noticed the differences in the Rangers, too, but eventually said it was the familiar names that still made the difference in Game 1.
“They have made some additions. They have a good team,” he said. “But all the men who have been here for a while have had their fingerprints on the registration paper,” he said.
Some important names have been excluded from Lightning’s scorecard, such as Nikita Kucherov, Hedman and Brandon Hagel. They didn’t look like the team that beat the Panthers in the second round. But Cooper said they’ve started the series on the wrong foot before, and there’s no need to panic.
“It’s the first match,” he said. “We’ve been through this before. We won the series when we lost the first match and we won the series when we won the first match.”
The second game is scheduled for Friday night in New York.