May 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate after defeating the Washington Capitals during the overtime period of game seven of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers defeated the Capitals 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet in the Eastern Conference Final, but the regular season sweep by the Lightning means nothing now.
Think there will be mentions about the exes?
After a riveting series against the Washington Capitals in which the New York Rangers had to rally back from a 3-1 series deficit, the Rangers will move on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning and their abundance of former Rangers. The Lightning dominated the Rangers during the regular season, sweeping all three games and outscoring the Rangers 15-7.
However, this Rangers team is much different now than it was in November, and that is why the regular season woes against the Lightning mean nothing.
Some players that are playing key roles right now, such as J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, and Keith Yandle, missed a game against the Lightning or, in Yandle’s case, wasn’t even on the team yet. Kevin Hayes, who has become one of the more dominant forwards for the Blueshirts, was struggling to find himself. Captain Ryan McDonagh missed the first two games and then returned for the third after missing over a month with a shoulder injury.
Alain Vigneault prides himself on rolling four lines and six defenseman. At the point in the season when the Rangers and Lightning met, Vigneault did not have the ability to do that. He was still tinkering with lines to find the right combinations that would take his team to the elite level. Much like last season, that did not happen until the holiday season rolled around, as Chris Kringle must have brought Vigneault some ideas.
New York Rangers
All of the players mentioned above have given the Rangers the ability to play the style they want. Since Vigneault has 18 skaters he can trust, it allows the Rangers to play their fast-paced game for a full 60 minutes without fatigue consuming players.
Obviously the Lightning aren’t the same team either. Tyler Johnson has ascended to superstar levels, Victor Hedman has transformed into a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman, and coach Jon Cooper was still trying to adjust to a team that had a lot of new faces on it.
So, for both of these teams, the games in late November/early December won’t mean that much. The Rangers depth up front and on defense is much improved, and they have found line combinations that gel together well. Also, they might get a boost if Mats Zuccarello can return at some point early in the series.
From the beginning of the season, many people were predicting the Rangers and Lightning to meet in the Conference Final. Many thought that the Lightning would be too much for the Rangers after the shellacking the Rangers received in the winter. However, the Rangers are much improved, and the regular season doesn’t matter now.
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