The Eastern Conference Final begins Saturday at The Garden.
Tampa Bay vs. New York presents several appetizing possibilities not the least of which is that we likely will be seeing the fastest up-and-down hockey of any Stanley Cup round.
For Rangers fans, the Lightning will present some former favorites including Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and perhaps even former New York captain Ryan Callahan.
But much of the Lightning’s lineup features compelling characters and story lines that may have eluded citizens of Rangerville. Hence, 14 questions you should ask — or have the answers to — about Tampa Bay’s favorite NHL team:
1. What was the best Lightning set back reminiscent to one experienced by the Rangers?
Answer: Trailing the Detroit Red Wings three games to two in the opening playoff round, Tampa Bay’s youngsters needed a taste of adversity. Like the Rangers down three games to one, the Lightning’s lads handled the hard times like pros and then rebounded to win the series.
2. Of all the surprise elements of the Montreal-Tampa Bay series, which one tops them all?
Answer: Carey Price had been hailed as the NHL best goalie entering the playoffs and a possible Hart Trophy-winner. By Game 6, the Montreal puck-stopper looked more like Half-Price, while the Bolts’ Ben Bishop emerged looking like a St. Louis version of Henrik Lundqvist. (In case you didn’t know, Bishop learned his hockey in the baseball Cardinals home town.)
3. Who is considered the Lightning’s top “Shut Down” defenseman?
Answer: Calgary-born Braydon Coburn, the Atlanta Thrashers first choice, eighth overall in the 2003 Draft. After two years with Atlanta, he moved on to Philadelphia and most recently was obtained by the Bolts at the Trade Deadline.
4. Can the Rangers win merely by shutting down the Lightning’s scoring machine, Steve Stamkos?
Answer: That would help but it would not be sufficient. There’s the matter of such dazzling forwards as Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov-Ondrej Palat. The Triplets comprise an underrated line that has played together all year. While not on the large size, the trio is quick and can survive the biggest foes.
5. How many words sum up the Tampa Bay offensive style?
Answer: Five: They come right at you.
6. In what strategic area are the Rangers superior?
Answer: Defense. But not by a lot.
7. Which forward is regarded by Lightning fans as the club’s ultimate warrior?
Answer: Rangers fans should know that by now – Ryan Callahan. How many players do you know who’d rebound from an appendectomy and almost immediately return to the lineup? When it comes to Callahan, the passwords are – Never rule him out!
8. Who’s the “sleeper” on the Lightning roster to fans in 28 other NHL cites but not Tampa Bay nor New York?
Answer: Brian Boyle; still fondly remembered for his Rangers heroics against Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup Final last June.
9. Because of the Lightning game plan — and what we know of the Rangers — how will this tourney differ from that between New York and Washington?
Answer: Bet on an up-and-down series with an absence of trapping. Or, as they used to say in the old days, “Firewagon Hockey.” (Maybe five alarms!)
10. How do you rate the confidence level of the Lightning in one word?
11. What are three unusual things about the Lightning’s crack left wing Ondrej Palat?
Answer: A. He’s from Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic. (Do you know any other NHLers from Frydek-Mistek?); B. He was the Bolts’ sixth choice, 208th overall — how about that! — in the 2011 Entry Draft; C. He’s as good a body checker as any forward in the league.
12. What laudable trait did Tampa Bay’s Hall of Fame general manager Steve Yzerman pass on to his players?
Answer: As captain of Cup-winning Detroit teams, Stevie Y was regarded as a top-flight character guy. Yzerman will not tolerate any but a similar attitude among his players. Otherwise, that fellow goes bye-bye.
13. Name several things to like about the Bolts ubiquitous scoring ace, Tyler Johnson?
Answer: A. Not only was he born in Spokane, Washington, but he played four years of Junior hockey for his hometown Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League; B. Like Mats Zuccarello and Marty St. Louis, he’s one of the most successful little guys in the NHL; C. He never stops moving his feet; D. Tyler is not afraid to place himself in “hard places,” such as the front of New York’s net.
14. A lot of interesting things have been said about the Lightning. And they did have the Rangers number during the regular season. Does that mean that Tampa Bay will win this series?
Answer: Rangers in 5!