NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle, right wing Ryan Callahan and defenseman Anton Stralman will face a very familiar opponent in the Eastern Conference Final.
Boyle, Callahan and Stralman each have their sights set on winning the Stanley Cup, and play the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, with whom they each spent at least three seasons with.
"This is a unique thing," Boyle said Friday. "It's certainly interesting how it's all kind of unfolded. But I really didn't expect anything else to be honest with you."
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final is Saturday at Madison Square Garden (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Callahan, a game-time decision after having an emergency appendectomy Monday, was traded to the Lightning by the Rangers for Martin St. Louis in an uncommon exchange of captains on March 5, 2014. Callahan, who was the Rangers captain for three-plus seasons prior to the trade, spent more than seven seasons in Manhattan.
His best offensive season was in 2011-12, when he had 29 goals and 54 points in 76 games.
"It is a little bit of made for TV," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "How often do two captains get traded for each other? Guys that have been big parts of a team and move on to free agency. In part, not because they didn't want to be here, but in the salary cap era, this is what happens."
In his first full season with the Lightning, Callahan had 24 goals and 54 points in 77 regular-season games. He has three assists in 12 playoff games.
"I'm excited, it's the conference finals so it would be exciting no matter what building you're walking into," Callahan said. "I think the last time I was here there was a lot more emotion and feeling about coming back. Now it's more a business trip and coming in here and trying to win."
Callahan had four goals and five points in three regular-season wins against the Rangers this season.
"I think it's no coincidence that you look at the games played in the playoffs for Boyle, Stralman, Callahan over the last few years, it speaks volumes to what these guys bring at this time of the year," Cooper said. "I know that when we went into the free-agent period last year, we were looking for those type of guys. Winners and guys that know how to get it done when it matters the most. We knocked it out of the park getting these guys."
Boyle and Stralman were each signed to multiyear contracts on the opening day of NHL free agency on July 1, 2014. Each player played a significant role for the 2014 Eastern Conference champion Rangers.
"I appreciate everything that New York has done for me, but as you move on you realize that you're getting older, and I'm on a great team that's one of the Final Four teams in the League right now," Boyle said. "It's really exciting. It doesn't need a whole lot more excitement for me because we're playing the Rangers. I think focusing on Game 1 and maybe that first shift will help me along the way to not get too excited."
Boyle knows the excitement of playing at Madison Square Garden, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It gets a little louder during the playoffs in this building," Boyle said. "That can be said for every building. It's different. I have fond memories of being in the playoff runs that we've had and experiences for me that have helped me along the way and I think made me a better player."
Center - TBL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 24 | +/-: -2
Boyle had six goals and 18 points in 82 regular season games for the Rangers last season, his fifth with the team. He scored three goals and had eight points in 25 games in the playoffs and was the Rangers' best center on faceoffs during a six-game series loss in the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
"People say Brian Boyle is a third or fourth liner, but I never looked at it that way," Cooper said. "I would say he's one of the 11 or 12 forwards that we dress every single night and that helps us win games."
Boyle had 15 goals and 24 points, including five game-winning goals, in 82 regular-season games his first season in Tampa Bay. He has one goal, two points and team-leading 53.7-percent faceoff efficiency (87-of-162) in 13 playoff games as a third-line grinder.
Stralman was one of the most consistent players in his three seasons with the Rangers. He scored one goal and 13 points in 81 regular-season games last season.
"I think if you put [Rangers coach Alain Vigneault] here beside me, we could probably say the exact same things about what [Stralman] brings to the team," Cooper said. "Anton may not win the Norris Trophy, but his partner will. That's how good he can make you look."
Stralman had nine goals, 39 points and a plus-22 rating in 82 regular-season games this season for the Lightning, and has a goal, five points and Corsi-for percentage of 57.57 against tough competition as a top-two defender alongside Victor Hedman in 13 playoff games.
Defense - TBL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 5
SOG: 30 | +/-: 4
Stralman said he figured the Rangers would probably be the opponent if the Lightning reached the conference final.
"I had really good memories [with the Rangers]," Stralman said. "It's just that final step you want to reach. Deep down I wasn't thinking about [hoping it was the Rangers]. I was more worried about what we were doing then and how we were playing, but the possibility was there so it crossed my mind."
Stralman expects a much different Rangers team than the one his team faced on three separate occasions during a 15-day span in November and December that resulted in three victories.
"I haven't watched many of their games because I've been busy myself but I didn't think in November that they were on top of their game," Stralman said. "It kind of speaks for itself; they are the best team in the League, no doubt."