Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper noted what the additions of three former Rangers -- one, Ryan Callahan, via blockbuster trade in March 2014 and two, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman, in free agency last July -- have done for the Lightning.
"I know that when we went into the free-agent period last year, we were looking for those type of guys, like winners and guys that know how to get it done when it matters the most," Cooper said. "We knocked it out of the park getting these guys . . . You'll see when we need a big penalty killed off or a big faceoff, we were holding on to the lead at the end of the game while all those guys were out on the ice, and there is a reason. Because they know how to win. That's what I truly believe is the big reason we're here now."
Latest Rangers stories
Callahan, who practiced for a second straight day Friday and hopes to play in Game 1 against the Rangers on Saturday -- just five days removed from an emergency appendectomy -- said the fanfare of his return to Madison Square Garden came and went Nov. 17, when he scored twice in a 5-1 win over the Rangers.
But Boyle and Stralman certainly are familiar with the difference between a midseason game and a conference finals, having both been a part of the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago.
"It gets a little louder during the playoffs in this building," Boyle said. "Fond memories of being in the playoff runs . . . It doesn't mean a whole lot more excitement for me because we're playing the Rangers. We're in the conference finals now. And I think focusing on maybe just Game 1 and maybe that first shift will help me along the way to not get too excited."
Boyle made himself a valuable commodity -- and too pricey for the role he played for the Rangers for five seasons -- with his play in the playoffs. Stralman has become an integral part of Tampa Bay's play in all three zones with the sort of ability that didn't seem to be recognized until his first year with the Rangers in 2011-12.
"I've used this line about Anton: He may not win the Norris Trophy, but his partner will," Cooper said. "He's always on the right side of the puck. You line up all the defensemen in this league, I'd be hard-pressed not to take him on my team."
The unassuming Stralman said he hasn't watched too many Rangers playoff games -- "I've been a little busy," he said -- but he knows what the Rangers can be when they're going well.
"They're the best team in the league, no doubt," Stralman said. "I had really good memories here. It's just that final step you want to reach."