For additional insight into the New York Rangers 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.
From watching the New York Rangers closely through two rounds featuring 12 games in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish has found three things about them that impress him the most.
Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers' overall team speed and their remarkable resiliency.
All three, Farrish said, contributed in a major way to the Rangers advancing to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, which opens Saturday at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Rangers are in the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season and the third time in four years.
"Obviously the goaltending is the first thing that comes to mind," Farrish said. "Lundqvist is just remarkably calm, saying the right things and just a leader in the locker room I'm assuming. He's just so calm and steady there."
Lundqvist has eight wins, a 1.60 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the playoffs. He is 4-0 in overtime and 6-2 in games decided by a 2-1 score. He has stopped 72 of 74 shots in New York's series-clinching wins, and stopped 105 of 110 shots in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round.
"Lundqvist has been unbreakable," Farrish said. "No leak games, no weak spots. It's as good of goaltending as I've seen in my life."
Farrish said the Rangers speed has at times been able to overwhelm the opposition, creating chances and goals off the rush. He said it didn't happen often against the Capitals, but it happened enough to be a difference maker.
"You could see later in the games the defensemen start to back off," Farrish said. "The Capitals did a really good job of controlling the gap in the neutral zone for the most part of this series but you could see situations where the speed, maybe on quick transitions, made it so they weren't able to hold that gap. That's the strength of the Rangers, pushing the defensemen back inside their own blue line so they can attack with speed there. They scare you with that speed, make you back off, and that is what creates their offensive chances off the rush."
And then there is the Rangers' resiliency, which has become their calling card under coach Alain Vigneault.
Farrish never saw any panic or loss of composure by the Rangers or their coaching staff even when facing a 3-1 series deficit against the Capitals.
"Certainly a big part of it comes from Lundqvist because you can play with that confidence when your goaltender is that strong," Farrish said. "They've just weathered a lot of storms, all through that series, and that's going to happen in every game. There's going to be a push back, momentum swings, but I think a lot of that also comes from Alain and the coaching staff in New York. They're very calm people and they don't appear to get overexcited on the bench. That seeps down into the players."
Farrish said he could tell the Rangers were calm in the first two rounds by how they sounded when talking to the media after games.
"No matter what the situation was they were very even keeled," Farrish said. "They weren't high when they won or low when they lost. There were very businesslike. Their attitude never changed. You couldn't tell if they won the game or lost the game by their tone of voice after the game, especially Henrik. I thought that was very impressive, to maintain your balance like that."
Now the story changes to facing the Lightning, a team with similar attributes to the Rangers. Whereas Washington was physical, the Lightning are fast, just like the Rangers.
The change in style might seem easier on the Rangers because they won't have to worry so much about taking a physical pounding in the way they did against Washington, but Farrish warns that the opponent won't be easier to deal with as a result.
"The secondary scoring from Tampa is going to be much harder to deal with than it was against Washington," Farrish said. "The secondary scoring from Washington was good, but I don't think it matches quite as good as going up against [Valtteri] Filppula's line or [Tyler] Johnson's."
Johnson, with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, have combined for 31 points, including 17 goals in 13 playoff games. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has three goals and 10 points.
"Their speed is going to be much better than Washington's and their top two lines of scoring are deadly," Farrish said. "And I think Tampa Bay's defense is underrated. If [Ben] Bishop can play as well as he did against Montreal, they're pretty solid in goal too."
Farrish indicated that the jury is still out on Bishop because he's going through the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. He's been good so far with a 1.81 GAA and .931 save percentage. He was good enough to out-duel Carey Price in the second round and now faces Lundqvist.
"That will be a factor for me, how Bishop responds to this," Farrish said. "But they have a lot of firepower in that lineup."
That's why Farrish is looking squarely at Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis to step up. Nash has had chances galore and leads the Rangers with 45 shots on goal, but he's scored two goals in the playoffs so far. St. Louis has no goals and was benched for a 10-minute stretch in the third period of Game 7 against the Capitals.
"They're bound to come out of this scoring funk here pretty soon and they're going to have to," Farrish said. "This is going to have to be where [Derick] Brassard's line steps up and makes a difference in this series."