Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers escaped Game 1 with a 2-1 victory despite giving the Tampa Bay Lightning three third period power plays. If New York wants to get back to the Stanley Cup final again this season, though, they’re going to have to keep the games 5-on-5.
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.
As you may or may not have heard, Tampa Bay was one of the favorites coming into the post-season not just because of players like Steven Stamkos or Victor Hedman, but because of the depth of their roster and the puck possession game that put them among the best in the league in most advanced statistical categories. In the playoffs, though, the Lightning have been far from a dominant possession team but have managed to escape largely unscathed. Sure, the Detroit Red Wings took Tampa Bay to seven games and the Montreal Canadiens put a slight scare into the Lightning forcing Game 6 in a series that could have been over in four, but they’ve done so while struggling to register near the advantage in shot-attempts-for percentage that they maintained during the regular season.
On the power play, though, Tampa Bay has been nothing short of lethal. In their 14 playoff games, they’ve scored more goals with the man advantage than any other team in the league and that’s with a shooting percentage that is four percent worse than the one they maintained during the regular season.
Before the playoffs began, the Lightning rolled along on the power play, scoring the eighth most goals (51) and finding the back of the net on a higher percentage of their shots than any other club (17.3). The next best shooting team on the power play was the Red Wings but they more than a full percentage point behind the Lightning at 16.2 percent.
Suffice to say, when it comes to being up a man, Tampa Bay knows a thing or two about finding the back of the net. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, that scoring acumen showed up, as Ondrej Palat was the only Lightning to find the back of the net and his goal came on a power play blast.
When looking at the scoring chances from Game 1 at 5-on-5, it paints a picture of a game that was largely dominated by the Rangers. At even strength, New York held a 18-13 advantage in scoring chances, but total, both teams were even in their chances at 20. Five of Tampa Bay’s chances – a quarter of their total scoring opportunities – came on the power play, and in the first game of the series, the Rangers gave the Lightning three straight opportunities with the man advantage.
Luckily, New York, thanks in large part to shot blocking and the play of netminder Henrik Lundqvist, was able to deny all but Palat’s goal, but playing down a man against Tampa Bay is akin to playing with fire – if it happens enough times, the Rangers are going to get burned.
The Rangers did well to avoid unnecessary penalties early in the contest taking only a slashing call in the first two frames, but an errant high stick, a blatant holding of a Lightning stick and then an unfortunate tripping call are all things New York will have to cut out. If they can keep the Lightning playing 5-on-5, it could be a 2-0 series heading back to Florida.