It may seem absurd after a one-goal game (2-1) to suggest that the idea of a four-game Rangers sweep is dancing in my head.
But it is.
Make no mistake; the Lightning are a good hockey team. But in the Eastern Conference Final, good is not good enough. Better is best.
That’s because the opening game on Saturday clearly demonstrated that the Rangers are better in every valued department from goaltending to clutch scoring. Follow the numbers and you’ll see why:
Tampa Bay arrived in town billed as quick team. Nice, but the Rangers are quicker. The Blueshirts constantly out-raced Lightning defenders in the Tampa zone. Plus, New York busts out of its defensive ice far faster than the visitors do at their end.
Check this out on Monday night in Game 2. You’ll see how many more times the Rangers successfully dump the puck into the Bolts’ zone and then win the chases. For a supposedly quick team, the Lightning look average.
Henrik Lundqvist told it to me when I asked him to compare the Caps to the Bolts. In diplomatic terms, he suggested that Washington was more physical. That’s an understatement if ever there was one.
Even the big guys on coach Jon Cooper’s Bolts squad lack oomph. A towering figure such as Victor Hedman looks like a crusher, but does not hit for his weight. Ironically, the hardest, most persistent Tampa body checker on Saturday was ex-Ranger Ryan Callahan and he was just back from an emergency appendectomy.
Ben Bishop kept his Bolts in the game despite a big Blueshirts blitz in the first period. He looked good thwarting breakaways, but when the game was on the line, he lost his stick. When New York’s Dominic Moore got the winner, it wasn’t Lundqvist who gave up the decisive goal, it was BB. Simply put, he can’t match the King when it comes to timely puck-stopping.
4. THE INSPIRATIONS
I can’t say enough good things about Ryan Callahan. It’s not only that he came back so fast from his appendectomy, but rather it was the manner in which he tossed his not-so-big body at the Rangers. After the game, as we walked out of MSG, I had the pleasure of telling Cally just how much I admired his body of work.
But the Rangers have their inspirational force, even though he’s not playing at this moment. It seems that every time Mats Zuccarello‘s mug is shown on the big screen, the fans get an inspirational zing. I bet it shifts right down to the New York bench, spark-plugging the skaters in Blue.
5. STOPPING STEVE STAMKOS
The Rangers were torpedoed a few times by Alex Ovechkin and still managed to capture the Capitals. Now we have the Lightning’s version of Ovi. Stamkos is the captain and Tampa’s scoring machine all rolled into one nice semi-potent package.
Yet, watching him in Game 1, I find that Steve doesn’t come close to Ovechkin as an overall threat. S.S. lacks Ovi’s jump and body checking ability. Nor does Stamkos have as effective linemates. And since he’s a good shade under the Ovi scale, how can Tampa prevail?
6. SOARING CONFIDENCE
There may have been some doubt in the Rangers camp about the club prevailing without the dynamic Zuccarello. That doubt is now gone and the proof is in the endless numbers of one-goal wins posted by New York. One or two Ws could be written off as accidental, but this Big Apple bunch is oozing confidence. I don’t see that on the other side.
- Biggest disappointment from the Tampa side was the absence of Brian Boyle from the visitors’ lineup in Game 1, and the mystery behind whatever it is that kept him absent.
- Plenty of familiar faces accompanied the Canadian media contingent in town. Old pal Glenn Healy, who was on the Rangers 1994 Cup-winners, was schmoozing it up in the press room.
- Bolts assistant coach Stevie Thomas and I had a chat about the 1993 Islanders which could have won the Cup. Unfortunately, in one of the dirtiest acts I’ve ever seen, Washington’s Dale Hunter crosschecked Isles ace Pierre Turgeon from behind, ruining the Nassaumen’s run.
- We’ll know soon enough, but right now this Rangers team seems better than the one that reached the Final last year.
- Best Dressed Ranger on Saturday late afternoon was Lundqvist, who dazzled the post-game media session wearing a bright blue suit. Seeing the King in his suit one, media wag whispered, “I wonder if it has a label inside the jacket that says, Batteries Not Included.”
- When I asked Jon Cooper to describe his coaching style, he momentarily was taken aback and then recounted how collegiate legend Ron Mason was one of the best role models he copied. Gentleman Jon also mentioned that when he still was in the minors, he got good advice from the likes of Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville.