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.
Dave Farrish didn't feel the score in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final was indicative of how well the New York Rangers played on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 because Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves and Kevin Hayes' pass to Dominic Moore in the slot went off Moore's leg and past goalie Ben Bishop with 2:25 remaining in the third period.
New York has played 13 one-goal games in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning nine of them, including seven by a 2-1 score. But Farrish felt the Rangers were far superior to the Lightning in Game 1 regardless of the score
"They played a really good, structured game the whole game," Farrish said. "There were very few breakdowns where it resulted in 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s. There were a couple, but I didn't think Lundqvist was really challenged a lot. When he was called upon he made some great saves, but he certainly didn't have to be a factor in the game like he was in the last series."
The Rangers outshot the Lightning 11-7 and had a 25-11 edge in total shot attempts in the first period, which was played entirely at even strength. The Lightning had more blocked shots (nine) than they had shots on goal in the opening period.
But the score stayed 0-0 until Rangers center Derek Stepan scored on New York's 22nd shot of the game, at 19:47 of the second period. Lightning forward Ondrej Palat tied the game with a power-play goal at 6:45 of the third, but Moore won it with his deflection goal at 17:35.
Farrish said he felt the Rangers had an easier time playing the way they want to play, with speed and defensemen joining the rush, against the Lightning on Saturday than they did at any point in their seven-game second-round series against the physically imposing Washington Capitals.
"Nobody will ever say it, but I think that they feel like they're better prepared to [play] against Tampa because they don't have to worry so much about that physical punishment on the forecheck," Farrish said. "Although the 'Triplets' line is a great line, they don't pose the physical threat that [Alex] Ovechkin and [Joel] Ward and [Jason] Chimera and those guys do. They faced some serious heavy hitters in that last series."
Farrish said the difference was noticeable on New York's forecheck. He felt the Rangers did a good job of keeping the puck away from Bishop, who is one of the best in the NHL at handling the puck, and were able to get into their cycle game with relative ease.
"And because Tampa is a smaller group up front [than Washington], they weren't able to stop the cycle game like Washington did," Farrish said. "The Capitals stopped what I call progression, and once they stopped progression they could get at you. But [on Saturday] the Rangers were allowed to roam free, do a lot of cycling, and the 'D' would come down the wall and do some interchanging to get some good offensive opportunities that way. It created a lot of problems for Tampa. The Rangers couldn't do that against Washington. I don't want to say they had their way with it against Tampa, but they were much more successful doing it in Game 1 than before."
In addition, Farrish said he felt the Rangers' speed was evident, which wasn't always the case against the Capitals. He also said the Rangers were able to come at the Lightning in waves because the defensemen were jumping into the rush and the forwards and defensemen were working well together once they got the puck settled in the offensive zone.
"They just look like a confident group that is really in sync and that really looks good," Farrish said.
When the Lightning did have the puck, Farrish said he thought the Rangers' defensemen had a good gap through the neutral zone and that prevented Tampa Bay from getting great looks off its rush game or second chances in front of Lundqvist.
"Tampa does a lot of stuff off the rush and New York's defensemen did such a good job in controlling the gap and that didn't allow Tampa that space to come in with a third and fourth guy trailing," Farrish said. "They did it a couple times, but for the most part that didn't happen. But that goes back to the Rangers dictating the flow of the play. The Rangers took away Tampa's offense by making them play defense most of the time."