For additional insight into the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning during the Eastern Conference Final series, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.
The New York Rangers know they have to get back to playing their structured, tight-checking game in order to even their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dave Farrish isn't quite sure if they'll be able to do it after watching the Lightning pick them apart in the past two games of the Eastern Conference Final.
"I don't know if they can," Farrish said. "I don't know if Tampa is just too fast for them to be able to do that. I think they're caught between gears of what they're trying to accomplish. They've been confronted with a different animal and they're not sure of the best way to handle it."
Tampa Bay has responded since a lackluster loss in Game 1 by attacking and torching the Rangers with incredible speed and dynamic skill. They beat New York 6-2 in Game 2 on Monday and 6-5 in overtime in Game 3 on Wednesday.
The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is Friday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Farrish said the Lightning's speed combined with their defensemen joining the rush is why the Rangers have looked so disjointed.
"It's really difficult to defend that type of offense," Farrish said. "It's a lot of work and a lot of effort to stop their momentum in those situations. Obviously, Henrik [Lundqvist] has to play extremely well. He has to almost try to stop the momentum himself so he can get the team going in the other direction. That's a lot to ask of him, but we certainly know he's capable of doing it."
Lundqvist, though, has looked average since winning Game 1 in large part because the Lightning are dominating his defense. He has allowed 12 goals on 66 shots in the past two games; he allowed 21 goals on 379 shots through his first 13 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"He's a little bit frustrated with what he's doing from listening to him talk," Farrish said. "He knows that if he challenges him they pass around him, and if he's deep in the net they shoot. He's a little bit flustered, but with his track record, you assume he's going to bounce back and throw a great game up there."
He'll have a better chance if the Rangers play a more structured game, but that means they'll have to tighten their gaps and attack instead of retreat. They haven't done that consistently since Game 1.
"I find the defense of New York is backing off in the neutral zone," Farrish said. "They've had to back off because the Lightning are coming with speed, a lot of time with odd-man rushes. They're creating a lot of their goals and scoring chances off the rush by having real good speed through the neutral zone. They've done a good job of just picking them apart. They've really broken them down and have got them I'm sure second guessing themselves now."
Farrish said the Lightning's speed has also fostered the Rangers' miscommunication and miscues on the backcheck.
"Coming back with the forwards, there seems to be some miscommunication when they're coming into their zone, over the blue line, about who's got who and I think it has resulted in a couple of goals," Farrish said. "Obviously when you lose that communication it affects your game. We know they have it, it's just a matter of them getting back to that and playing with confidence. It's like they lost their mojo. They look like a totally different team. They've been so strong, so steady and almost surgically smooth that you would have never expected that, but obviously Tampa is in their heads a little bit and has got them backing up, on their heels. That's a credit to Tampa for playing the type of game they've been used to playing all year."
If there is a positive for the Rangers it's that they finally broke out offensively by scoring five goals. New York was averaging two goals per game entering Game 3 and scored more than two in only three of 14 games.
"Scoring five goals is not easy to do against any team, so there are a lot of positives there," Farrish said. "The biggest thing for them is sorting out their defensive zone coverages through the neutral zone and in the defensive zone. That would eliminate a lot of those goals against and scoring opportunities."
The question is can they do all of that? Farrish isn't so sure.
"Tampa has made some great offensive plays," Farrish said. "I mean, they're phenomenal plays some of these guys are making. These aren't just lucky goals that happen to be in the right place at the right time. They're making some great things happen, and I don't know if the Rangers have run into that this year on a consistent basis. When you play them five, six, seven games in a row, that's when you can sort of see the cream separate from the milk. They'll have their hands full."