For the sixth time in eight seasons and for the third consecutive season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Also, for the third straight season, the Lightning will face a team from New York in the conference finals. In the last two seasons, the New York Islanders were the opponent. This year, the New York Rangers will lace them up against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Both teams finished with 110 points during the regular season, leaving many to wonder why the Lightning don’t have the home-ice advantage in the series?
Although both teams finished with 110 points during the regular season, the Rangers had 44 regulation wins to just 39 for the Lightning. Thus, the Rangers have the home-ice advantage.
The Lightning were 0-2-1 against the Rangers during the regular season, but as we found in the two previous series, you can throw the regular season records out the window in the playoffs.
The Lightning is currently on a six-game winning streak and will try to extend that streak against the Rangers on Wednesday night.
These two teams last met in the postseason in the Eastern Conference in 2015. The Lightning beat the Rangers in seven games in that series to advance to their second Stanley Cup.
The most anticipated matchup of this series will be the goaltenders—Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning against Igor Shesteryorkin of the Rangers.
Shesteryorkin is a Vezina Trophy finalist after compiling a record of 36-13-4 with a 2.07 goals-against average this season. In the playoffs, Shesteryorkin is 8-5 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Vasilevskiy is coming off a season where he posted 39 wins with a 2.49 goals-against average. Where Vasilevskiy has earned his money has been these last two playoff series.
Vasi is 8-3 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
Vasilevskiy proved why he is the best goaltender in the world in the Florida series as he shut down the best offense in the NHL, allowing three goals in four games.
The Lightning is relatively healthy heading into this series. Braydon Point is still out and is listed as day to day. Brandon Hagel is questionable and will most likely be a game-time decision on Wednesday night.
The Lightning has been off the last nine days, while the Rangers get the usual day off between games after wrapping up their seven-game series with Carolina on Monday night.
Ryan McDonagh says the team is excited to get to playing games and will do whatever it takes to continue the quest for a third straight Stanley Cup. “I can speak for our group that we’re as hungry and desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to try and keep this journey going here. We’ve had a lot of time to think and prep, and now we know our opponent, and it’s exciting that we get to go out and finally play.”
After watching the first two playoff series, I don’t see any team being able to stop the Lightning. This team has hit another gear and are determined to win another Stanley Cup.
The two keys to this series will be the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning penalty kill.
Vasi played the best hockey that I have ever seen him play in the four-game sweep of the Panthers.
The PK was also outstanding, holding the Panthers to one goal in 28 chances.
The Lightning is the better team in this series. They have more depth and better goaltending. They also have that championship pedigree.
The Lightning will beat the Rangers in six games to advance to their straight Stanley Cup final.