You want story lines? The Rangers and Lightning have never faced each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the Eastern Conference finals have enough subplots for a spy thriller and more familiar characters than a television miniseries.
Each team deserves to be in the NHL's Final Four: The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points and ousted the Penguins and Capitals. Tampa Bay posted a league-best 38 wins at home during a 108-point season and eliminated the Red Wings and Canadiens.
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In a 15-day span from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, the Lightning went 3-0 against the Rangers, outscoring them 15-7, but with a Stanley Cup Final berth on the line, those numbers from six months ago can be deceiving. Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh was injured, missing two of the games, and J.T. Miller was playing in Hartford for two. Keith Yandle was a Coyote; James Sheppard was a Shark.
"We played all three of the games a little bit earlier in the season, when we hadn't hit our stride," said center Dominic Moore, who played for the Lightning in 2010-11 and 2011-12. "But they played us very well. They'll be a huge challenge."
Moore is one of six players in this series who have played for both teams, which should add an intriguing flavor. The others are two former captains, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Callahan; two Boyles, Brian and Dan, and Anton Stralman.
About 14 months ago, after a series of disputes with general manager Steve Yzerman, St. Louis, who spent 13 season with the Lightning, asked for a trade, specifically to the Rangers (he and his family spend summers in suburban Connecticut). Callahan, the gritty winger drafted by the Rangers in 2004, couldn't agree to terms on a contract extension, specifically a no-trade clause, so general manager Glen Sather shipped him to Tampa Bay for St. Louis at the trade deadline.
St. Louis, who scored 21 goals this season, is struggling, with none in the playoffs, and was benched for part of the third period in Game 7.
Brian Boyle and Stralman were integral parts of the run to the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings last season. They became free agents and the salary cap-strapped Rangers decided not to make a push to keep them, leaving each a little bitter.
Dan Boyle played six seasons with the Lightning and won the Cup in 2004 with St. Louis under John Tortorella.
On Friday, the Rangers will prepare for Saturday's Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, likely with a plan to use their speed to attack and slow down the Lightning with forechecking and back pressure. Another focus will be to contain Tampa Bay's power play, which scored seven goals against Montreal. The Rangers were 14-for-15 against the Capitals' top-ranked power play.
The Lightning also is speedy, and younger, but the Rangers have a decided edge in experience. They are the first Eastern Conference team to reach the conference final three times in four seasons since the Devils from 2000-2003. "We were here last year," Marc Staal said, "and we're a confident team."
Henrik Lundqvist has eight wins in this postseason and 51 in his career. Ben Bishop is 8-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average against the Rangers, but this is the 6-7 Lightning goalie's first postseason.