2022 Stanley Cup playoffs – Eastern Conference finals takeaways after two games

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered their Eastern Conference finals matchup towards the New York Rangers after a properly-executed sweep of the Florida Panthers and as a properly-rested crew, getting 9 days off between sequence.

Two games into this sequence, the Lightning have didn’t execute offensively, wanting rusty and out of sync towards a Rangers crew that has discovered its stride after two straight seven-sport battles. New York routed the visiting Lightning 6-2 in Game 1. While Game 2 was nearer, the Rangers had been capable of play at their tempo and saved Tampa Bay on its heels throughout a 3-2 victory at Madison Square Garden to construct a 2-0 sequence lead.

“We’ve been a tricky out to this point,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant mentioned. “I feel we’re an excellent hockey crew. We’ve performed nice hockey within the playoffs. We discover a option to win games.”

As the motion strikes to Tampa, Florida, for Sunday’s Game 3, listed here are 5 takeaways from a shocking opening to the sequence, because the Lightning have gone from surging towards a 3-peat to preventing for his or her playoff lives.

The Rangers are for actual

We’ve seen this earlier than within the Stanley Cup playoffs, have not we?

Teams that discover their identification throughout a postseason journey. Teams that “learn to win” throughout hostile moments, such because the Rangers bouncing again from a triple-additional time loss and a 3-1 sequence deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, or rallying from 2-0 and three-2 holes to upset the Carolina Hurricanes. Teams that instantly match collectively the way in which their basic managers had deliberate, both by getting wholesome on the proper time or via the appropriate line combos, such because the Rangers’ a lot-hyped Kid Line.

The previous 4 games the Rangers have performed have been the 4 greatest games they’ve performed within the playoffs. They’re possessing the puck and buzzing the offensive zone. They’re getting balanced scoring from a number of traces and a number of defensemen. When their programs break down and opponents get their possibilities, goalie Igor Shesterkin has been phenomenal: a .946 save share, not giving up greater than two targets in these 4 games, whereas the Rangers averaged 5 targets per sport.

“We heard all yr that we weren’t going to have playoff success. But the idea within the room is excessive. The exterior opinions do not have an effect on anybody,” defenseman Adam Fox mentioned. “I do not assume the surface noise or any perceptions of our crew actually impacts our mindset going into the games.”

The streak is over

Since 2020, the Lightning had been capable of depend on one factor persistently: If they misplaced a sport within the playoffs, they had been going to win the following one. They did it 3 times within the first spherical towards the Toronto Maple Leafs. They did it 18 straight games general within the postseason, setting an NHL report. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was 18-0 with a 1.49 targets-towards common, a .942 save share and 5 shutouts throughout that outstanding run.

The Lightning misplaced Game 1 to the Rangers. And then they misplaced the streak in Game 2.

“At some level, you are gonna lose two in a row within the playoffs. The undeniable fact that we have not in what number of years is outstanding. You might take a second right here and say, ‘Hell of a job, boys.’ But for essentially the most half, streaks come to an finish, and it got here to an finish for us tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “Did it knock us out of the playoffs? It didn’t. Do we have now a hill to climb? There’s no query. I do not assume I’m being Captain Obvious saying that. But I do assume that we have now higher in us.”

There had been some good issues the Lightning might draw from of their Game 2 loss. It was a a lot tighter sport than the 6-2 loss in Game 1. They bought again to what makes them efficient — north-south offense, turning protection into offense and incomes their zone time — through the second half of Game 2.

But that magic elasticity of bouncing again from losses wasn’t there for the Lightning or for Vasilevskiy, who has given up three targets in all 4 games he is performed after a loss in these playoffs.

“There had been some constructive indicators about what occurred within the second half of the sport. But there are not any ethical victories right here. We nonetheless misplaced,” Cooper mentioned.

Adam Fox is elite

When it involves younger defensemen within the NHL, it is Cale Makar‘s world and Adam Fox is simply dwelling in it, regardless of beating out the Colorado Avalanche wunderkind for the Norris Trophy final season. Makar is having an unbelievable postseason, setting scoring information for defensemen and now serving to to hinder the otherworldly offense of Connor McDavid, one purpose Fox’s playoff run hasn’t gotten the eye it deserves.

Fox has 22 factors, placing him among the many Rangers’ scoring leaders. He has fueled their energy play, operating an lively level that retains that unit in seemingly fixed movement. He was averaging 26 minutes, 41 seconds per night time coming into Game 2. The Rangers attempt to trot him out for large defensive assignments, corresponding to towards Nikita Kucherov within the Eastern Conference finals, and he can deal with them.

Seriously, have a look at this transfer to arrange Kaapo Kakko‘s aim in Game 2: deking Jan Rutta into the Bronx earlier than sending an ideal move to Kakko for the tip-in. It’s been a particular run for Fox. Maybe not Makar particular, however particular nonetheless.

Since 2020, no NHL participant has extra postseason targets than Lightning middle Brayden Point, who has 30 tallies in 53 games amongst his 60 factors. He suffered a decrease-physique harm towards the Maple Leafs within the Lightning’s Game 7 win, leaving after simply 5:51. They did not want him of their second-spherical sweep over the not-prepared-for-prime-time Panthers. But they miss him dearly towards the Rangers.

“He’s, in my view, the most effective gamers within the league. I do not assume I’m out of line saying that. He’s an enormous-sport participant and he may also help tilt the ice,” Cooper mentioned. “In an ideal world, we would like to have him again, nevertheless it’s not like we have not received a playoff sequence with out him.”

Point has been skating after Lightning practices in full gear, engaged on getting again into sport form and sharpening his abilities for a possible return. Having Point again would enable the Lightning to reset their lineup on the middle place, however extra importantly it will add the most effective two-means gamers within the sport to their roster.

“He’s persevering with to progress. But we’re not sitting right here saying he will miraculously play in Game 3,” Cooper mentioned.

A (lopsided) goalie duel for the ages

On paper, the battle between Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin was each bit the celebrity matchup as Nathan MacKinnon vs. Connor McDavid within the Western Conference finals. Vasilevskiy staked a declare for “greatest goalie on the planet” standing after again-to-again Stanley Cups, final postseason’s Conn Smythe Trophy, the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy and main the NHL in wins for 5 straight seasons. Shesterkin was the challenger to that throne, anticipated to win his first Vezina this season and backstopping the Rangers via two seven-sport sequence wins.

So far, it has been the upstart Shesterkin getting the higher of the gold-customary Vasilevskiy. The Rangers goalie is 2-0 with a .943 save share and three.24 targets save above anticipated. The Lightning goalie is 0-2 with an .828 save share and minus-3.26 targets save above anticipated, per Evolving Hockey information.

Before the sequence, Shesterkin mentioned his Russian countryman Vasilevskiy was “the perfect goalie on the planet proper now.”

And now, after two games of stellar goaltending and a offered-out Madison Square Garden crowd chanting, “Igor’s higher!” throughout these wins?

“Currently, I do not assume that basically issues. I nonetheless stand by my opinion,” Shesterkin mentioned via an interpreter. “Andrei remains to be the perfect goalie on the planet. You cannot overlook that the sequence is to 4 wins.”

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