Eastern finals: A lot of familiarity between Rangers, Lightning

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

There is no need for introductions or video preparation when it comes to the Rangers and Lightning.

Familiarity is strong through both rosters.

Consider ...

■ At the 2014 trade deadline, these teams traded captains — Ryan Callahan going to Tampa Bay and Martin St. Louis to New York.

■ In July, Tampa Bay signed unrestricted free agent forward Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Stralman, both with New York last season.

■ Then there's New York defenseman Dan Boyle and forward Dominic Moore, each of whom were popular Tampa Bay players during its 2004 Stanley Cup run.

But ...

"They're not my players anymore," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Friday. "I know they're great people but I've got to worry about my team, getting our group ready.

"I've got to worry about my guys playing a sound, fundamental game and I'm sure their coach will do the same thing."

Callahan, who had his appendix removed Monday, is questionable for Game 1 today, but understands the uniqueness of this series.

"There will be a lot of emotions," Callahan said. "But the biggest thing is we're in the conference finals no matter who the opponent is. It's going to be emotional going back there for a playoff game, but I'm excited."

1 N.Y. Rangers vs. 2 Tampa Bay

Series: Tampa Bay 3-0-0

How they got here: N.Y. Rangers — d. Ottawa in 6, d. Washington in 7. Tampa Bay — d. Detroit in 7, d. Montreal in 6

Key player: New York LW Rick Nash. After scoring 42 goals during the regular season, Nash has just two in the playoffs. With his size and strength, Nash is a matchup nightmare for the Lightning.

Prediction: New York in 7


■The Triplets are for real.

Red Wings fans know all about the Lightning line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. It started slowly, got going, then dominated the Canadiens. The trio has combined for 31 points (17 goals), with Johnson (eight goals) a leading MVP candidate.

■Will Rick Nash provide goals?

He scored 42 goals during the regular season, but has two in the playoffs. A perfect snapshot of how the playoffs have gone for Nash — he had a shorthanded breakaway early in Game 7 against Washington and was denied. He, however, has a team-high 45 shots.

■Don't underestimate the Tampa Bay defense

Many analysts believe the Rangers defense is one of the best, and for good reason. There's a great mix of skill, grit, defense, positioning and passing. But don't sleep on the Lightning defense, now healthy. The top pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman is proving to be outstanding, while Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn have shut down opponents and supplied timely offense.

■Can the Rangers take that final step?

Few teams have been as dominant as the Rangers in recent seasons. They've reached the conference finals for the third time in four years and have an opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup Finals a second consecutive season. Winning a Cup is the one missing ingredient.

■Lightning G Ben Bishop vs. Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist.

Bishop was up-and-down against the Red Wings but tough in Games 6 and 7. Facing Canadiens G Carey Price in Round 2, Bishop was generally better. Now, all Bishop has to do is outplay Lundqvist, who has a 1.60 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the playoffs.


All games on NBCSN and CBC unless noted

Today: at New York, 1 p.m. NBC

Monday: at New York, 8 p.m.

Wednesday: at Tampa Bay, 8 p.m.

Friday, May 22: at Tampa Bay, 8 p.m.

x-Sunday, May 24: at New York, 8 p.m.

x-Tuesday, May 26: at Tampa Bay, 8 p.m.

x-Friday, May 29: at New York, 8 p.m.

x-if necessary