Much has been made about this series between the Rangers and former Blueshirts. For Game 1, that would be Ryan Callahan of the appendectomy somehow dressing and taking 21 shifts (14:46) after having his appendix taken out. What else would you expect from the ex-Rangers captain?
The effort was there with his trademark blocking three shots but he also was victimized on ex-Lightning Dominic Moore’s winner with 2:25 left from rookie Kevin Hayes allowing the Rangers to come out on top in Game 1.
Also on for that goal against was familiar face Anton Stralman. The rock solid defenseman who Glen Sather felt he couldn’t commit long-term on instead opting for grizzled vet Dan Boyle. One half of the Lightning’s top pair with gifted countryman Victor Hedman, Stralman for the most part was good in 25 shifts (22:59). He even drew a tripping minor on Moore giving his team a chance to go ahead late in regulation. But it wasn’t to be with a stingy Rangers penalty kill getting the job done.
None of Stralman’s three shot attempts reached former teammate Henrik Lundqvist who again was sharp in making 23 saves in the Rangers’ 2-1 win to take a one game to none lead in this entertaining Eastern Conference Final. One that’ll continue to feature more skating and end to end rushes. Both teams are fast and it should make for a fun series if Game 1 is any indication.
In the first game, it was Boyle who came out on top. He and partner Marc Staal were matched up against Steven Stamkos by smart tactician Alain Vigneault. They handled the assignment well giving the Lightning captain nothing at even strength.
At times, Boyle’s had his struggles during this latest Rangers run. He’s come under criticism along with Keith Yandle for some shaky play. But one thing about him is he’s proud and battles hard. That intensity allowed him to bounce back quickly from a heavy hit from Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik in Game 7. He was cleared by the Rangers medical staff and didn’t look out of place making smart decisions with and without the puck in 25 effective shifts (17:56) finishing plus-one.
The other ex-Ranger Brian Boyle wasn’t available for today with his wife giving birth to their first child. Congrats to him. Tampa missed his edgy play. This time of year brings out Boyle’s best. A smart checking pivot who does the little things well like winning faceoffs, killing penalties and blocking shots. If he returns Monday, he’ll be a pest against his former team.
As Staal pointed out prior to the start of the first ever series between these new rivals, there are no friends during the playoffs. The battle lines have been drawn. Boyle, Callahan and Stralman are the enemy. A point not lost during the regular season series when they did damage angering the masses.
What the Rangers do possess are three former Bolts including Boyle and Martin St. Louis who teamed up to win Tampa Bay’s only Stanley Cup 11 years ago. An irony of sorts that they now face a team they shared great moments with.
A third member, Moore didn’t stay long in Tampa sticking around to help the Lightning advance to their second Conference Final before losing in a tough seven to the Bruins in 2011. The well traveled vet is back in the Final Four for the fourth time in his career. The first two coming with Montreal and Tampa a year apart. The last two back with the team who drafted him out of Harvard in the third round of 2000. All playing a supporting role. As he had in scoring the series clincher from poetically Brian Boyle that sent last year’s team to its first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years, Moore notched today’s game winner drawing the current Blueshirts one step closer to a return.
Hockey is a funny game. Once, you’re loved and rooted for by cheering fans. But once you change jerseys, you’re hated and booed by those same lovable fans who respected you and probably still do in most cases. Here they are doing battle for a chance at Lord Stanley. We’re just getting warmed up.