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This Eastern Conference Final Is Gonna Be A Good Ol' Fashioned Reunion

CallyNYRMartyTBThis one’s gonna be fun. Lots of scorned players on each side of a matchup you know deep down they were all kinda hoping for. Marty went from the most beloved, greatest Lightning player ever to arch enemies with Yzerman & demanding a trade. Captain Cally was the heart & soul of the Blueshirts, but was swapped with St. Louis after Sather scoffed at his perceived self-worth. After being on board for last year’s Cup run, Brian Boyle said the Rangers barely reached out to him on a new deal & Stralman wasn’t offered the security in NY he was looking for. On top of being two very evenly matched, similar built teams there’s a few personal axes to grind that’ll be storylines throughout the Eastern Conference Final. If there’s anything left in MSL’s tank that being benched for the last half of Game 7’s 3rd period wasn’t already gonna squeeze out, his messy break-up with the Bolts could be the only thing left that will. Boyle & Stralman will be ultra motivated as well, but Callahan looks to pose the biggest problem in this reunion. Already on the ice yesterday just 3 days after an appendectomy, Cally will undoubtedly look to wreak havoc in front of his former teammate’s crease & could wear more pucks than Bishop at the other end. We know he doesn’t need to score to make his mark.
Besides the individual story lines, there’s plenty of similarities between these two squads. They both finished as the two top-scoring teams in the East & were 1-2 in goal differential in the entire league. Neither has a frightening power play (although the Bolts are running hot, finishing 7 of their last 14 PP chances vs Montreal) but both are very strong on the kill & SHG threats. The Rangers & Lightning are far from physically intimidating, but NY does have the size advantage. They’re not gonna bully anyone, but when you’ve got just as much (if not more) speed as your smaller (especially up front) opponents, that’s certainly an edge. Forget the three times they met in a 2-week span back in late November – I believe both teams think of the other as the only legitimate squad in the conference that can stop them. Playing an almost identical style, there’s not a ton of secrecy here. No tricks. Whoever executes it better & minimizes mistakes wins.
That should serve as another advantage for the Blueshirts – mistakes. First, they’ve got the ultimate mistake-eraser between the pipes in Henrik Lundqvist. Bishop’s been no slouch these playoffs and hasn’t lost to the Rangers in 8 tries. He was outstanding in his 31-save blanking of the Wings to get out of the first round. Still, he’s not Hank. No one is. There’s a special kind of confidence his team has playing in front of him. As for Bishop, he’s been staked to a few cushy leads & has had a couple of clunkers. With the Rangers’ affinity for one-goal games, I can’t imagine the Bolts have the same level of trust in their goaltender. This is new terrain for Bishop. Combine that with the lack of defensive depth after Hedman/Stralman/Garrison & there’s some definite question marks on the TB side. Coburn & Carle are better in name than game at this point while Sustr should serve as little more than a 6’8″ penalty-taking cone. On the Rangers side, Klein & Staal will need to play their best with TB having two equally potent scoring lines. I’ve had bones to pick with both Boyle & Yandle, but they’re still consistently on the ice for more scoring chances for than against & I think a series like this where transition is key could suit Yandle’s skill set. If Boyle misses any time, Hunwick is a safe replacement.
The forward positions are where things could get dicey. Stamkos averages over a point per game against the Rangers and, although he got off to a slow start, Jon Cooper’s shifting him to wing & flanking Filppula sparked a scoring binge against the Habs. AV’s squad has kept some of the NHL’s elite from taking over so far, but if they do it again they’ve still got Tyler Johnson’s “Triplets” line to worry about. They’ve been absolutely outstanding all year – especially at even strength – and the playoffs haven’t rattled them in the slightest. The Blueshirts should hold an advantage in the bottom-six matchup, but their stars will really need to shine to match what Cooper’s top-six will bring to the table. Kreider/Stepan/Fast will not only need to keep rolling, but St. Louis can’t keep posting zero’s if his right-handed clone from a decade ago continues to lead the East in playoff scoring. Rick Nash needs to go goal-for-goal with Stamkos like he did all season. I have all the faith in the world in Lundqvist, but realistically expecting to dispose of the Lightning 2-1 every night is tough. Maybe not as tough as expecting Nash to go goal-for-goal against anyone but whatever. Edges in experience, defensive depth & goaltending should get the Rangers past the Bolts in another thrilling Game 7. With an offensive boost from their big guns, they can do it in 5. That’s my prediction. Call me crazy, but I’m going all-in Rick Nash leading this team to another shot at the Cup. A spectacular series has gotta happen some time – right? VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!