TAMPA -- Keith Yandle scored his first goal of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday. It might have been a stress reliever for the New York Rangers defenseman, but he didn't need it to justify how effective he's been in the offensive part of the game in the Eastern Conference Final.
"It's the best I've seen him play so far with the puck," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday morning.
Yandle is doing the things the Rangers thought he'd be doing from the moment they acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes in a blockbuster trade on March 1 that came at a significant price for New York.
The Rangers sent top forward prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a conditional 2016 first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick to Arizona to get Yandle, extra defenseman Chris Summers, and a fourth round pick.
They felt Yandle's skillset as an elite puck moving defenseman would serve them well. They felt he would be perfectly suited to play in a series like the one the Rangers are in now against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They were right.
Yandle is thriving in the more wide-open games the Rangers have played against the Lightning after struggling to jump into the play and get on the scoresheet in the first two rounds of tight-checking hockey against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
He has five points and six shots on goal in the past two games, factoring into half of the Rangers' 10 goals, including two of their four power play goals. He had had a hand in four of New York's 24 goals in the first two rounds.
"I think in this series I've felt probably at my best and most comfortable [since arriving in New York]," Yandle said. "I kind of feel like it's coming together."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Yandle is thriving against the Lightning. He's built to play in the more wide open games. He gets bottled up when the games are played tightly.
Against the Lightning Yandle has been able to get the puck and have time to make a play with it, whether it's a stretch pass out of the defensive zone or a rush deep into the offensive zone.
The Rangers tied the best-of-7 series with a 5-1 win in Game 4 on Friday. Game 5 is Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NCBSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 9
SOG: 26 | +/-: 5
There are times when Yandle's puck handling will be a liability, such as when he turned the puck over twice in the defensive zone in Game 4, but the Rangers knew they'd have to live with that when they acquired him. They didn't mind as long as he was able to play the rest of his game well. He's finally got a chance to do it, and he's been a big factor.
"How to beat the forecheck, when to jump up in the attack, it's the best I've seen him play with that so far," Vigneault said. "I've seen him play really good with [Arizona] before. It takes players a little adjustment time. He's playing really well."