LIGHTNING at RANGERS
TV: NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 1 of best-of-7 series
The New York Rangers will try to carry momentum from their overtime win in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning are coming off a six-game series win in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens. They won the first three games against the Canadiens after winning Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
The Rangers are 5-2 at home in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Lightning are 2-4 on the road.
"It definitely takes some time to let everything process after a series like that [against Washington], but now you're past that, you're focusing on [Saturday]," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "It's a new team. We've started talking about them and what to expect. They're a skilled team with a lot of speed. I think they were one of the best teams in the League to score goals, so we have a challenge ahead of us here."
How the Rangers attack the challenge will be interesting to see.
They primarily used their top defense pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi against Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in the second round. New York's second line of Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast and Chris Kreider also had a hand in limiting Ovechkin to one even-strength goal and Backstrom to two points in the series.
Now the Rangers have to contest with the Lightning's hottest line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov without forgetting about Steven Stamkos, who scored 43 goals in the regular season and had points in the final five games against Montreal, including goals in Games 5 and 6.
Johnson, Palat and Kucherov have 31 points, including 17 goals, in the playoffs. Johnson has earned enough respect around the League that Vigneault used his name in the same breath of some of the biggest superstars in the NHL that the Rangers have faced or will face.
"It goes from Crosby/Malkin to Ovechkin/Backstrom to Stamkos/Johnson," Vigneault said. "It should be a lot of fun."
The Lightning aren't sure if right wing Ryan Callahan, a former Rangers captain, will be able to play in Game 1.
Callahan missed Game 6 on Tuesday against the Canadiens because he had to have an emergency appendectomy. He practiced Friday at Madison Square Garden and is considered a game-time decision.
"It's going to be about pain tolerance," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Ultimately it's up to Ryan Callahan."
Vigneault plans on facing Callahan in Game 1.
"I would expect him to be there [Saturday] knowing him and who he is," Vigneault said.
The Lightning and Rangers haven't played since Dec. 1. Tampa Bay won all three games against New York in the regular season by a combined 15-7, including two wins by at least three goals at Madison Square Garden.
Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop had a 2.34 goals-against average against the Rangers; New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a 4.74 GAA against the Lightning.
Bishop is 8-0-0 with a 1.48 GAA and .946 save percentage in his career against the Rangers.
"I think since they played us they went on a small [42-13-3] run, so I think I'm not sure when we played them we saw their best," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We played well when we played them, but the last game we played here I think the Rangers probably felt they deserved a better fate; everything we shot was going in.
"Playing deep into the spring is different than the regular season."