East finals takeaways after two games: What we’ve seen and what’s next


The Tampa Bay Lightning entered their Japanese Convention finals matchup towards the New York Rangers after a well-executed sweep of the Florida Panthers and as a well-rested group, getting 9 days off between collection.

Two video games into this collection, the Lightning have did not execute offensively, wanting rusty and out of sync towards a Rangers group that has discovered its stride after two straight seven-game battles. New York routed the visiting Lightning 6-2 in Sport 1. Whereas Sport 2 was nearer, the Rangers had been capable of play at their tempo and stored Tampa Bay on its heels throughout a 3-2 victory at Madison Sq. Backyard to construct a 2-0 collection lead.

“We have been a tricky out thus far,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant mentioned. “I feel we’re an excellent hockey group. We have performed nice hockey within the playoffs. We discover a strategy to win video games.”

Because the motion strikes to Tampa, Florida, for Sunday’s Sport 3, listed here are 5 takeaways from a shocking opening to the collection, because the Lightning have gone from surging towards a three-peat to combating for his or her playoff lives.

The Rangers are for actual

We have seen this earlier than within the Stanley Cup playoffs, have not we?

Groups that discover their id throughout a postseason journey. Groups that “learn to win” throughout antagonistic moments, such because the Rangers bouncing again from a triple-overtime loss and a 3-1 collection deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, or rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 holes to upset the Carolina Hurricanes. Groups that all of the sudden match collectively the way in which their common managers had deliberate, both by getting wholesome on the proper time or via the best line mixtures, such because the Rangers’ much-hyped Child Line.

The previous 4 video games the Rangers have performed have been the 4 greatest video games they’ve performed within the playoffs. They’re possessing the puck and buzzing the offensive zone. They’re getting balanced scoring from a number of traces and a number of defensemen. When their methods break down and opponents get their possibilities, goalie Igor Shesterkin has been phenomenal: a .946 save proportion, not giving up greater than two targets in these 4 video games, whereas the Rangers averaged 5 targets per recreation.

“We heard all 12 months that we weren’t going to have playoff success. However the perception within the room is excessive. The skin opinions do not have an effect on anybody,” defenseman Adam Fox mentioned. “I do not assume the surface noise or any perceptions of our group actually impacts our mindset going into the video games.”

The streak is over

Since 2020, the Lightning had been capable of depend on one factor persistently: In the event that they misplaced a recreation within the playoffs, they had been going to win the subsequent one. They did it thrice within the first spherical towards the Toronto Maple Leafs. They did it 18 straight video games general within the postseason, setting an NHL document. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was 18-0 with a 1.49 goals-against common, a .942 save proportion and 5 shutouts throughout that exceptional run.

The Lightning misplaced Sport 1 to the Rangers. After which they lost the streak in Sport 2.

“Sooner or later, you are gonna lose two in a row within the playoffs. The truth that we have not in what number of years is exceptional. You can take a second right here and say, ‘Hell of a job, boys.’ However for essentially the most half, streaks come to an finish, and it got here to an finish for us tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “Did it knock us out of the playoffs? It didn’t. Do we’ve got a hill to climb? There isn’t any query. I do not assume I am being Captain Apparent saying that. However I do assume that we’ve got higher in us.”

There have been some good issues the Lightning may draw from of their Sport 2 loss. It was a a lot tighter recreation than the 6-2 loss in Sport 1. They acquired again to what makes them efficient — north-south offense, turning protection into offense and incomes their zone time — throughout the second half of Sport 2.

However that magic elasticity of bouncing again from losses wasn’t there for the Lightning or for Vasilevskiy, who has given up three targets in all 4 video games he is performed after a loss in these playoffs.

“There have been some constructive indicators about what occurred within the second half of the sport. However there are not any ethical victories right here. We nonetheless misplaced,” Cooper mentioned.

Adam Fox is elite

On the subject of younger defensemen within the NHL, it is Cale Makar‘s world and Adam Fox is simply dwelling in it, regardless of beating out the Colorado Avalanche wunderkind for the Norris Trophy final season. Makar is having an unbelievable postseason, setting scoring data for defensemen and now serving to to hinder the otherworldly offense of Connor McDavid, one purpose Fox’s playoff run hasn’t gotten the eye it deserves.

Fox has 22 factors, placing him among the many Rangers’ scoring leaders. He has fueled their energy play, working an energetic level that retains that unit in seemingly fixed movement. He was averaging 26 minutes, 41 seconds per evening coming into Sport 2. The Rangers attempt to trot him out for large defensive assignments, resembling towards Nikita Kucherov within the Japanese Convention finals, and he can deal with them.

Severely, look at this move to arrange Kaapo Kakko‘s aim in Sport 2: deking Jan Rutta into the Bronx earlier than sending an ideal cross to Kakko for the tip-in. It has been a particular run for Fox. Possibly not Makar particular, however particular nonetheless.

Since 2020, no NHL participant has extra postseason targets than Lightning middle Brayden Level, who has 30 tallies in 53 video games amongst his 60 factors. He suffered a lower-body damage towards the Maple Leafs within the Lightning’s Sport 7 win, leaving after simply 5:51. They did not want him of their second-round sweep over the not-ready-for-prime-time Panthers. However they miss him dearly towards the Rangers.

“He is, in my view, the most effective gamers within the league. I do not assume I am out of line saying that. He is a big-game participant and he might help tilt the ice,” Cooper mentioned. “In an ideal world, we would like to have him again, but it surely’s not like we have not received a playoff collection with out him.”

Level has been skating after Lightning practices in full gear, engaged on getting again into recreation form and sharpening his abilities for a possible return. Having Level again would permit the Lightning to reset their lineup on the middle place, however extra importantly it might add the most effective two-way gamers within the recreation to their roster.

“He is persevering with to progress. However we’re not sitting right here saying he will miraculously play in Sport 3,” Cooper mentioned.

A (lopsided) goalie duel for the ages

On paper, the battle between Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin was each bit the famous person matchup as Nathan MacKinnon vs. Connor McDavid within the Western Convention finals. Vasilevskiy staked a declare for “greatest goalie on the earth” standing after back-to-back Stanley Cups, final postseason’s Conn Smythe Trophy, the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy and main the NHL in wins for 5 straight seasons. Shesterkin was the challenger to that throne, anticipated to win his first Vezina this season and backstopping the Rangers via two seven-game collection wins.

To this point, it has been the upstart Shesterkin getting the higher of the gold-standard Vasilevskiy. The Rangers goalie is 2-0 with a .943 save proportion and three.24 targets save above anticipated. The Lightning goalie is 0-2 with an .828 save proportion and minus-3.26 targets save above anticipated, per Evolving Hockey knowledge.

Earlier than the collection, Shesterkin mentioned his Russian countryman Vasilevskiy was “one of the best goalie on the earth proper now.”

And now, after two video games of stellar goaltending and a sold-out Madison Sq. Backyard crowd chanting, “Igor’s higher!” throughout these wins?

“At present, I do not assume that actually issues. I nonetheless stand by my opinion,” Shesterkin mentioned via an interpreter. “Andrei remains to be one of the best goalie on the earth. You possibly can’t neglect that the collection is to 4 wins.”

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