On an off day, the Rangers prepared for Game Two against the Lightning. Gerard Gallant and several players spoke to the media about the mindset entering tonight’s big game at MSG.
It’s a chance to go up two games to none against the two-time defending champion Lightning. A team that doesn’t lose two straight since they went on this run. Can the Rangers throw a wrench into the Bolts’ perfect 17-0 record following losses?
While that Gallant quote could get taken out of context, he was being matter of fact. If you saw him speak during the press conference, he didn’t dismiss the remarkable Bolts’ record. He was very tongue in cheek.
It’s interesting to note that he has a very good relationship with Lightning coach Jon Cooper. They coached together for Canada at the World Championships a few years back. That allowed Gallant to get to know Cooper.
He was quick to point out how much respect he has for Cooper. They keep up with each other via text. Obviously, during the next two weeks, friendships are put to the side. Just ask Ryan McDonagh about former teammate Chris Kreider. And vice versa. That is part of the storyline.
The last tie to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final on the Rangers’ side is McDonagh. He and Kreider were teammates during that run. McDonagh playing through a broken foot in what proved to be a heartbreaking series loss to the Lightning. Now, he’s on the opposite side.
For the Bolts, they boast more holdovers from that hard fought series. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and injured center Brayden Point. Point has been skating, but can’t push it due to the foot injury he suffered against Toronto. His status is doubtful for the series.
While McDonagh has ties to the Rangers, Barclay Goodrow certainly does to the Lightning. He helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups. One-third of their old third line that all departed due to salary cap issues and expansion, Goodrow is the kind of hard-nosed player who can be a factor in such a series. He gets his nose dirty and adds grit along with Tyler Motte.
Although the checking line was on for the Lightning’ first goal scored by Stamkos on a rocket in the first period, they got better as Game One evolved. Ryan Reaves was a physical presence, finishing checks and getting in on the forecheck. He also got involved late with Pat Maroon when things got nasty. He was all smiles as he stood over Maroon during a fracas. He’s certainly added that key ingredient for the Rangers.
On Thursday, it was also announced that Darryl Sutter won the Jack Adams. He did an outstanding job with the Flames guiding them to a division crown and a great regular season. However, they lost in five games to bitter Alberta rival Edmonton last round.
Gallant was up for Coach of The Year. But for some mystifying reason, he finished a distant third behind Sutter and runner-up Andrew Brunette. It is a little perplexing. Gallant didn’t come in with high expectations. He did a great job getting a younger Rangers team to buy in. That’s why they’re here.
In many ways, they take on Gallant’s cool demeanor. There’s no panic. That explains how they made NHL postseason history in becoming the first team to complete a 3-1 series comeback where they trailed in each elimination game. Their resilience also helped them rally from a 3-2 deficit to upset the Hurricanes. No small feat.
The Blueshirts have been defying the odds all year. They’ve bucked the trend in the overemphasized analytics the hockey community uses. Having a great goalie in Igor Shesterkin certainly helps. But he doesn’t score goals. They have been a comeback team who never gives up. True character.
A lot of the focus yesterday was on the success of the Kid Line. With Filip Chytil recording his second two-goal game of the postseason that gave him five goals in the last three games, they’re getting a lot of notoriety. It’s well deserved.
Alexis Lafreniere has nine points in his first playoffs at only 20. He’s been a consistent performer. The former top pick in 2020 gets involved physically. He’s effective on the walls and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. Good characteristics for a young player who’ll only get better.
Kaapo Kakko had one of his best games. He was noticeable throughout Game One. On The Shift, he forced Vasilevskiy into a tough save. He also set up Chytil’s first goal by making a great play behind the net. There’s no denying his ability to control the puck down low.
Entering tonight’s big Game Two, what should be expected is a much better effort from the Lightning. They showed some rust in the 6-2 loss on Wednesday night. Figure the Bolts to be harder on the puck and tighter defensively. It’ll take the Rangers’ best effort to snap that Tampa Bay win streak following losses.
If there is an area they can clean up, it’s preventing the dangerous combo of Kucherov and Stamkos to get open in the slot for great chances. They missed on some really good looks. Defending the middle is a key to victory.
It should be interesting. We’ll see if the Rangers can earn a win and put real pressure on the Lightning.