NEW YORK -- It doesn't typically get easier the deeper a team advances into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but life on the ice might be a little simpler for New York Rangers defensemen against the Tampa Bay Lightning than it was against the Washington Capitals.
It appeared that way in the Rangers' 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday, when New York's defensemen, particularly Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle, were consistently joining the rush, up in the attack, and interchanging with forwards to go deep into the offensive zone.
If they're able to consistently do that for the rest of the series, the Rangers' chances of moving on to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight season grow exponentially because defensive depth and a blue-line attack can and should be an advantage for them against the Lightning.
"We'll see," Boyle said. "Ask me in about four or five games."
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is Monday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Lightning want to attack the Rangers with speed; the Capitals attacked with imposing size and power and could smash defensemen going back for pucks with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson.
It at times seemed to take New York's defensemen, especially Boyle and Yandle, out of their comfort zone. Yandle was minus-10 and Boyle minus-4 in even-strength shot attempts differential in Game 7 against the Capitals, according to War-on-Ice.com.
But instead of worrying about size and power against Tampa Bay, they have to take into account the Lightning's speed and instincts on the forecheck. Guarding against that didn't take them out of their comfort zone in Game 1.
Players like Yandle, Boyle and McDonagh were quick enough to get the puck, turn, and move it and themselves up the ice to create a four-man attack, which is what they're paid to do.
The Lightning's turnover problems played into all of that, and the result was more time for the Rangers in the offensive zone.
Yandle was on the ice for 18 even-strength shot attempts for and only nine against. His plus-9 SAT differential in Game 1 led all Rangers defensemen. Boyle, who was paired with Marc Staal and faced Steven Stamkos' line most of the game, had a plus-7 SAT differential (19-12). McDonagh, who along with Dan Girardi was matched against Tampa Bay's red-hot "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, was plus-5 (18-13).
Yandle and Boyle were on the ice for Dominic Moore's game-winning goal, although neither touched the puck on the play.
"Get back to pucks quick, get up in the play quick, and roll it over, that's when I feel I'm at my best," Yandle said. "I felt good [Saturday]. Obviously you can take good and bad from every game, and I think I played good."
"I thought I had a pretty good game," he said.
What about coach Alain Vigneault, speaking on the entire defense?
"Our guys for the most part were able to read the pressure and break out," Vigneault said. "I like the way we supported the attack and played in the offensive zone. It was a good game for us from the back end."
Yandle said the key was avoiding high-risk plays and having good support from the forwards.
"When we know our forwards are going to be helping us out, that's when it's easier for us," Yandle said. "If you're talking about jumping in the play and being a part of the offense, when we know our forwards are there for us, that's when it's easier for us."
The test will come in Game 2, when the Rangers expect the Lightning to come at them with as much ferocity as velocity.
"I'm sure they're going to want to be more physical as the series goes on and they're going to want to wear us down," Boyle said.
The Lightning will have to do that with their speed and instincts because they can't do it well enough with power to slow down the Rangers. That's not how they're built to win.
"We found out quick that they're very good at reading and trying to anticipate your next pass," McDonagh said. "A couple times I was below the goal line and wanted to keep a rim going, and instead of coming on me, they kind of baited me, went to the wall and took the pass away. They're a very quick skating team, so you have to be very fast in your reads and fast in your decision making."
In order to do that, the Lightning will have to possess the puck better than they did in Game 1. If they can't do that, defensemen like Yandle, Boyle and McDonagh will always be able to join the rush, pinch, and interchange with the forwards to play below the goal line the way the Rangers need them to play.
"If they've got to play D for 20 or 30 seconds, the chances of them heading up the ice are not good; the chances of them heading to the bench to change are really good," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's how you stop them. If you're going to go into zones and be one and done like we were [Saturday], we've got no chance. We have to possess the puck more. It's a big reason why we're here, and if we're not going to do that, it's going to be a long night and a short series."