Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos doesn’t care whether he’s in the spotlight, but there was something odd about seeing Tyler Johnson excel thus far in the NHL playoffs while Stamkos struggled (at least, by his standards). But Wednesday in Game 3 of the Bolts’ Eastern Conference Final series against the Rangers, the Lighting captain was a threat to score – and to run the opposition over with a robust physical game that included a massive hit on Blueshirts winger Kevin Hayes.
In Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning had their high-octane offense smothered and lost 2-1 to a Blueshirts squad that specializes in 2-1 wins. However, the Bolts hadn’t won their previous two playoff series this year because their opponents were able to hold down that offense for long. And in Game 2 in Manhattan, Tampa broke out on offense early and often and got another outstanding performance from center Tyler Johnson to defeat the Rangers 6-2 and steal home ice advantage in their third-round series.
Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew at Madison Square Garden Monday, scoring the Lightning’s first three goals – the first, a shorthanded goal; the second, a power play goal; and the last, at even-strength – and although the Rangers close the gap to a 3-2 Bolts lead after two periods, the visiting team got two goals from Alex Killorn and another from Steven Stamkos in the final frame to put the game out of reach.
Just as they did in the second round against Montreal cornerstone goalie Carey Price, the Lightning showed Monday they could solve a star in net. And once again, they got solid netminding out of Ben Bishop, who stopped 35 of 37 Blueshirts shots and registered a .946 save percentage.
And now it’s on the Rangers to steal a victory in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning have won five of seven games in this post-season. If they can’t get that offense uncorked beyond the two goals per game they’ve scored of late, their season will end one round sooner than it did last year. Read more
With eight goals in 14 games, Lightning center Tyler Johnson led all playoff scorers through two rounds. And he continued the hot streak Monday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final by scoring the first goal of the night – and then Tampa’s second of the game – to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead on the New York Rangers after 20 minutes of play.
The Rangers managed to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final from the Tampa Bay Lightning without ever really looking as if they were in too much danger, but if they want to walk away with their second straight Stanley Cup final berth, New York will have to stay out of the penalty box.
While it may seem overly simplistic to say the Rangers stand a better chance at winning the series if they’re playing without giving the Lightning the extra man, the way the series is bound to shake out is that if New York can keep play at 5-on-5, they’ll have vastly improved their chances of moving to the next round. Read more
Neither Boyle nor Zuccarello suited up for Game 1, but there’s potential for both to appear in this series at some point. For Boyle, it could even be as soon as Game 2, but there has been no confirmation from Lightning coach Jon Cooper that will be the case. Read more
Stars always step up in the post-season, but the difference most years between a team that makes it to the finals and a team that falls shy of the last round is generally the play of their depth players. In some years, the depth players can even make all the difference. Take Darren McCarty or Mike Rupp, for instance.
McCarty, never the most offensively skilled of players, had one of the greatest games of his career in the Western Conference final in 2001-02. In Game 1 of the Western final that post-season, McCarty, who had scored just five goals and 12 points in 62 regular season games, notched a hat trick to help the Red Wings take the opening contest. Detroit wouldn’t look back, going on to their third Stanley Cup victory in three years.
For Rupp, it was one goal, the first playoff goal of his career, which made him a depth hero for the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03. Over the course of his entire 610 game career, Rupp scored only 54 goals. Having never scored a playoff goal in his career, Rupp found himself in the Devils lineup for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
In Game 7, Rupp opened the scoring 2:22 into the first period. He assisted on the Devils’ second goal to make it 2-0. And with time winding down, it was Rupp who found Jeff Friesen and got the primary assist on the goal that made it 3-0. To this day, Rupp remains the only player in NHL history to have his first career post-season goal be the Stanley Cup winner.
With only two rounds left, who are the depth players that could step up for the remaining clubs? Read more
We know our four teams for the Memorial Cup now. Thanks to Oshawa’s ousting of Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters, the Generals will represent the OHL, joining Kelowna of the WHL, plus Quebec (the hosts) and Rimouski in the QMJHL. So who is favored to win it all? Ah, that’s a thorny question in a tournament that often surprises. But let’s take a look at what you should know about the four worthy squads in contention.