Coach Alain Vigneault was brought in to make the Rangers an up-tempo team. For the most part, he succeeded, but as the first two rounds of the playoffs proved, the Blueshirts can grind it out too.
This may not be an issue in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Well, it’s definitely a different team, there game is more suited to speed and skill,” the coach said. Highest scoring team in the league. They’ve gotten some phenomenal goaltending throughout the season and the playoffs. A team that comes at you hard, very hard on the forecheck, and very good on transition. So it’s going to be quite a challenge. I mean, it goes from Crosby-Malkin, to Ovechkin-Backstrom, to Stamkos and Johnson, it should be a lot of fun.”
Fun, sure, but hopefully not as heart-wrenching as last round. The Garden faithful won’t be able to take it. They will get, though, a number of former fan favorites like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle coming back as members of the Lightning.
That will make for some interesting drama.
“I think, yeah, [Callahan] was a captain for a bunch of years, and he was a big part of this organization,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “It’s different that he’s in a different jersey, but, as I said, for us it’s been so long since we played him, been a long year, and we’ve been through so much with this group, you know, it doesn’t matter who is going to be over there, we approach it, and play it with each one of those guys the same way.
“We just need to be a little more familiar with them than we are with most guys. But as I said, they’re in our way of getting what we want to get done and we’re going to focus on what we need to do.”
And don’t think the Rangers are the only team that has to deal with their past heroes. Dan Boyle, Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore are wearing the Blueshirt on Broadway. And for St. Louis, this may amount to some revenge for him, as he was traded last year for Callahan at the deadline after requesting a trade.
But the 39 year-old future Hall of Famer is not going to allow past feelings to get in the way.
“It’s not something I think about right now,” St. Louis said. “Right now it’s a team that’s standing in the way of where we want to go. I have a lot of respect for the organization over there and the people there. They treated me really well. It’s not time to reflect on it. It’s time to play playoff hockey.”
Ultimately, this series will come down to which team can keep the other team off the board. The Rangers may have the edge there with their tough defensemen and obviously Henrik Lundqvist.
“Sometimes it’s hard to know how the game is going to be played,” the King said. “But looking at their lineup, they have a lot of skilled players on the third and fourth line. So I think personally you just have to focus on what you can do to help the team to win games.”
And that he will. Game 1 is tomorrow. Should be a great series.