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Rangers see a lot of themselves in speedy Lightning

by Dan Rosen /

NEW YORK -- Familiarity won't be an issue for the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, even though they haven't played the Tampa Bay Lightning since Dec. 1.

Former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman are now the opponent, and New York right wing Martin St. Louis played into his 13th season with the Lightning before getting traded to New York in March 2014.

Beyond the personnel, watching the Lightning play in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens was, for the Rangers, like seeing a mirror image.

"Speed versus speed," is how left wing Carl Hagelin described what to expect in the Eastern Conference Final, with Game 1 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). "Two fast teams."

The Rangers and Lightning are considered among two of the fastest teams in the NHL with great mobility on the back end, defensemen who thrive on joining the rush, and forwards who skate well and thrive on finding space in the middle of the ice.

"They're an explosive team, really good offensively," Hagelin said of the Lightning, who are averaging 2.62 goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after leading the NHL at 3.16 in the regular season.

Part of their dip in scoring has to do with the fact captain Steven Stamkos, who had 43 goals in the regular season, has three in 13 playoff games.

But the "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat has 31 points on 17 goals and 14 assists in the 13 games.

"Their Triplet Line there is really clicking," Hagelin said. "I think it starts with their [power play], and that's where they get a lot of momentum. We've got to focus on just playing well defensively. I think if we do that we're going to get some chances."

The Rangers will no doubt take the approach that what happened in the regular season against the Lightning won't matter, particularly because they played them so early in the season: Nov. 17, Nov. 26 and Dec. 1.

"We hadn't hit our stride, but they played us really well," center Dominic Moore said.

New York lost the three games by a combined 15-7; Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a 4.74 goals-against average and .823 save percentage. The Lightning were led by Stamkos' seven points and Johnson's six; Callahan scored four goals.

"It's a team we had some problems with during the season," Lundqvist said, "but if there's one thing I learned, playoffs are a different story."


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