Rangers in 7
Last season at the trade deadline, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning made a rare swap of Captains with Martin St. Louis the all time leading scorer in Tampa going to the Rangers in exchange for Ryan Callahan. St. Louis played a key role in the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014, but has yet to find the back of the net in this year’s playoffs. While Ryan Callahan gives the high scoring Lightning an important defensive presence, his health is a question mark following an emergency appendectomy before the Game 6 clincher against the Canadiens.
The Lightning dominated the Rangers in the regular season, winning all three meetings by a combined score of 15-6. However, the three meetings were during a two week stretch in late November and might as well have been in a different season. The difference in this series will be who can control the pace of play. A tight defensive game will likely benefit the Rangers while the Lightning are hoping to open things up and turn the series into a shootout.
The Goaltending edge is clearly with New York, as Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top goalies in the NHL. The key for Tampa is for Ben Bishop to continue his strong play from the first two rounds and match Lundqvist save for save. Bishop must avoid giving up soft goals and big juicy rebounds if the Lightning are to have a chance in the series.
The Rangers meanwhile need to breakout out of their offensive drought; they have won six games this postseason by scores of 2-1 including the overtime winning in Game 7 against the Capitals. Martin St. Louis sat much of the finale against Washington and should be motivated to beat his former team, the Rangers will need him to find his shot and get going.
Chris Kreider has been the Rangers man in the clutch with five playoff goals all coming at key moments. The Lightning will need to key their eye on him because it looks like Kreider is poised for big things. Meanwhile the Rangers must stop Tyler Johnson who has been red hot with eight goals in the playoffs. Considering they have done a great job keeping Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in check, Johnson will certainly be in their crosshairs.
These are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and it should be a good series and it should be a long series. The Rangers are expert and winning seventh games, especially at home and they will need to do it again to reach the Finals for the second straight season.
Blackhawks in 6
No two teams have been more impressive this postseason than the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Each are the only the teams to have won a series with a sweep so far. The Blackhawks are coming off a sweep of the Wild in the second round, while Ducks have lost just once in nine games. Both teams are rather similar with two front line scorers, with solid blue liners and a decent goalie.
In the regular season the Blackhawks won two of three meetings with the Ducks, as the road team won all three meetings. The Ducks and Blackhawks both have yet to lose at home in the postseason. With each team having big time snipers and goalies that are prone to occasional lapses this series could be full of high scoring games and highlight moves and goals.
The Blackhawks have the edging in goaltending, with Corey Crawford already winning a Stanley Cup two years ago. However, Crawford has been shaky at times and was already benched this postseason in favor of Scott Darling. Frederik Andersen has been outstanding for the Ducks in the playoffs, but Anaheim has hardly faced anyone with the explosive scoring from Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If the Ducks are to go to the Stanley Cup Finals, Andersen is going to need to be at the top of his game.
While Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the key to the Blackhawks offense, the Ducks have gotten just as big of postseason from Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Perry has scored seven goals in nine games, and has had a four point performance in the previous two series openers. If Perry can do that against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals the Ducks will be well on their way.
For the Blackhawks the key will ultimately be what can Corey Crawford do? After allowing three early goals against the Predators to begin the postseason Crawford was benched, but returned in Game 6 and was solid against the Wild in the Blackhawks second round sweep, highlighted by a 1-0 shutout win in Game 3. If Crawford is sharp the Blackhawks will get the upper hand.
The Duck were the best team in the West all season, but when Chicago is at the top of their game, no team in the NHL is better than the Blackhawks. Against the Wild the Blackhawks looked to be reaching that top level that carried them to the cup in 2013. With their ability and postseason fortitude it will be the Blackhawks moving on in six hard fought games.