In game one of the Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Rangers defeated the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2. The Rangers put the pedal to the metal when Chris Kreider opened the scoring at 1:10 of the first period and assured victory with two goals by Filip Chytil in the second period. The game was tied at one after the first period and Igor Shesterkin kept the Lightning from taking the lead with another strong 37-save performance at home where he is 7-1 during these playoffs.
All signs pointed towards a low-scoring game until Frank Vatrano and the Rangers ‘Kid Line’ scored the next three goals to give the home team a commanding 4-2 lead. After Ondrej Palat tied it at two, the Rangers got two goals from Filip Chytil, one from Artemi Panarin and Zibanejad and put six past one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The home crowd at Madison Square Garden has been a huge advantage but most people thought the Lightning had the edge in game one since the Rangers just finished a seven-game series while the Bolts had over a week off. However, Gallant’s group was too mentally strong to doubt themselves against Tampa, even if Tampa is one of two teams (2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins) to repeat as Stanley Cup champs in the last 20 years.
Veteran Ranger defenseman, Justin Braun was a part of a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals and has played in 100 playoff games. Braun respects the fact that Tampa Bay has not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs during their last three playoff runs, two of which ended in hoisting the Stanley Cup.
The head coach who has guided the Lightning to two consecutive Stanley Cup Championships is Jon Cooper and he gave the Rangers total credit for winning game one.
“They came out and had some urgency and the pucks got in. We might’ve got a little tired as the game went on, but that’s no excuse on our part. I give the Rangers full marks on their game, their plan, their effort tonight.”Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper on Game 1
Outside of leaving one of Tampa’s most dangerous forwards, Steven Stamkos open for a one-timer in the first period, the Rangers played well in their defensive zone. However, the Rangers are playing the defending champions and need to step up their defensive play in game two, although Shesterkin is playing great. The Rangers’ first line may have had two goals to their name in game one, but taking a 1-0 lead in the Conference Finals took a complete team effort. Artemi Panarin added a late goal on a great feed from Andrew Copp in the third period that sealed the victory and center Ryan Strome did not find the scoresheet but won 66% of his face-offs against Lightning center, Nick Paul but the Rangers didn’t just need their top six to perform.
The ‘Kid Line’ is Coming of Age
I think that equal credit goes to the Rangers’ first line and their third line (“kid line”) for their contributions as well. The reason is that the Kid Line contributed two crucial goals that stretched the Rangers’ lead to 4-2 in the second period. The Kid Line really came to life in the second round against Carolina, where Chytil scored four goals and helped bring the Rangers back from a 3-2 deficit to win in seven games. Chytil then stepped up huge in game one of the conference finals, by scoring twice in the span of three minutes and what turned out to be the game-winner.
While Chytil’s seven goals during the playoffs ranks second on the Rangers, his linemates, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere have each contributed to a line that can play the 200-foot game. When it comes to Kakko and ‘Laffy Taffy’ it hasn’t always come with goals but it has come in skating and winning one-on-one battles on the forecheck. However, the Kid Line showed great chemistry in the second period of game one of the conference finals by holding onto the puck for over a minute in the offensive zone before Chytil gave the Rangers the lead.
This huge turning point was even more remarkable because the oldest on that line is 22 years old and that’s Chytil. Lafreniere is the youngest on the Kid Line, yet he has four points (all assists) in the Rangers’ last three playoff games, including two assists in his first conference final, wow! During a press conference held today, Gerard Gallant was asked about the potential for success that each player on the Kid Line could have.
They have a huge impact and they’ve had huge since the playoffs started. The future looks bright for our club but I’m not looking at that, I’m looking at the near future. We just have to keep giving ourselves a chance to win every night and those guys have been a big part of it.Gerard Gallant
Keys to Game Two
The Rangers managed to put six past Vasilevskiy in game one but expect him to bounce back in game two. The Lightning took seven penalties in this game including one in the first five minutes. Because the Rangers have the second-best power-play unit in the playoffs, part of Tampa Bay’s game plan will be staying out of the box.
Now, the other thing is that the Rangers scored one power-play goal in game one, so Tampa has a great penalty kill so the Rangers have to prioritize even-strength play just as much. What seems to be obvious about Gallant’s Blueshirts is that they now are one of the deepest scoring teams in the playoffs and need to leverage their advantages against a team missing their first-line center (Brayden Point) for as long as he is out. One way the Rangers did this in game one is not taking any penalties in the first or second period and of course capitalizing on the chances they do get, which came on the rush and off extended offensive zone time in game one.
The biggest factor in who wins this game is who skates better for the entire 60 minutes. It was the Rangers who proved they were ready from the start of game one when Chris Kreider scored the opening goal and scoring first may be the key to winning game two and taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the conference finals. The puck drops at Madison Square Garden tonight at 8:00 PM (Eastern) and the Garden will be rocking, so don’t miss the game!
main image credits: