NHL Playoffs: Conference finals preview capsules
A capsule look at the conference finals series in the NHL playoffs (all times EDT):
NEW YORK RANGERS vs TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
SECOND ROUND: Rangers beat Washington Capitals in 7. Lightning beat Montreal Canadiens in 6.
SEASON SERIES: Lightning won 3-0.
STORY LINE: The resilient Rangers overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the second straight postseason, the first team in NHL history to do so, outlasting the Capitals in an overtime thriller when Derek Stepan’s rebound winner ended the final game of the second round. Determined to not only return to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year but bring the silver trophy back to Manhattan for the first time since 1994, the Rangers have played in 14 straight one-goal postseason games including the last two games of the Stanley Cup finals last year. That’s the longest streak in NHL history. Henrik Lundqvist’s confidence, experience and savviness in the net has been a big help. His 1.60 goals-against average has been the best in the league this postseason.
The Lightning’s top scorers have been coming through this spring. After tallying a mere three assists in the first eight postseason games, Steven Stamkos had three goals and four assists over the last five games of the second-round series against the Canadiens. After Tyler Johnson had six goals in the seven-game first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, Nikita Kucherov scored six times in six games against the Canadiens. The Johnson-Kucherov line with Ondrej Palat has half of the team’s 34 postseason goals. The Lightning have three former Rangers on their roster: center Brian Boyle, defenseman Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan, who’s recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
NEW YORK’S KEY PLAYER: Martin St. Louis. The 39-year-old right wing and six-time All-Star, who was traded by the Lightning to the Rangers last year, isn’t the same scorer he once was. But he had 21 goals during the regular season and has so far been scoreless in the playoffs. St. Louis and defenseman Dan Boyle won the 2004 Stanley Cup title with the Lightning. Center Dominic Moore is another former Lightning player on the Rangers.
TAMPA BAY’S KEY PLAYER: Ben Bishop. With a 1.81 goals against average in 13 postseason games, the baby-faced 28-year-old has been a boon for the Bolts between the pipes. The 6-foot-7 Bishop has an 88-36-13 record in two-plus years with the Lightning, who were swept in the first round of the playoffs last season with Bishop out with an elbow injury.
GAME 1: Saturday, 1 p.m.
PREDICTION: Lightning in 6.
ANAHEIM DUCKS vs CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
SECOND ROUND: Ducks beat Calgary Flames in 5. Blackhawks beat Minnesota Wild in 4.
SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks won 2-1.
STORY LINE: The Blackhawks enter their fifth Western Conference finals in the last seven years with a borderline-absurd nine days between games since the completion of their second-round series sweep of the Wild, but the Ducks have had six days to rest themselves. This is a classic matchup of speed against strength, pitting teams with a combined 16-3 record this postseason. The Blackhawks have their transition game in prime form, after flustering the Wild with deft, disciplined defense in the passing and shooting lanes to spring that super-quick rush. Patrick Kane led the way, of course, with five goals in that series. The mullet-wearing, sharp-shooting right wing has bounced right back from the broken collarbone that knocked him out of the last quarter of the regular season, tallying 13 points in 10 playoff games. Goalie Corey Crawford posted a .947 save percentage against the Wild, rebounding from a benching in the first round.
For the Ducks, Frederik Andersen has settled into a groove with a 1.96 goals against average, a marked improvement by the 25-year-old over his first playoffs experience in 2014. The Ducks have averaged 3.89 goals per game this postseason, too, the best of the 16 qualifying teams. Matt Beleskey set a franchise playoff record with goals in five straight games against the Flames, part of a dangerous line with Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler.
ANAHEIM’S KEY PLAYER: Corey Perry. With seven goals and eight assists in nine games, the prolific right wing has been the most productive player in the league this postseason. Perry, who turns 30 the day before the series begins, won the Stanley Cup title with co-star Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks in 2007.
CHICAGO’S KEY PLAYER: Brent Seabrook. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he’s the biggest Blackhawks defenseman, size that will be critical against the heavies Getzlaf, Perry and linemate Patrick Maroon, the trio that took control against the Flames in the second round. Seabrook, like fellow blue-liner Duncan Keith, can move the puck, too. He has three goals and two assists in 10 playoff games.
GAME 1: Sunday, 3 p.m.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks in 6.