6 Keys to the Rangers taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning

Bobby Bevilacqua

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After an emotional comeback against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers find themselves back in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here’s what they need to do to win. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Washington Capitals presented a lot more obstacles in the second round than were originally anticipating, building up a 3-1 series lead and taking the Rangers through a physical, exciting seven game series. But Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff were able to make the right adjustments, and counter Barry Trotz’s strategies to come away with a series win.

The Capitals and Penguins both tried to focus on shutting down the Rangers’ strengths; their speed, transition game, and puck possession. It worked for the most part, as each series was very close, and forced the Rangers to mostly abandon the long stretch passes and work on other ways of creating possession and scoring chances.

That probably won’t be a problem against the Lightning, mainly due to the fact that the Lightning can actually match up against the Rangers’ speed. So expect a more wide-open style of play, with more scoring chances, odd-man rushes, and probably more goals.

The Lightning also don’t have as good of a defensive corps as the Capitals did. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are a fantastic top pair, with excellent skating ability and puck moving skills. But once you get past them, the talent drops off. Andrej Sustr isn’t very mobile, and Braydon Coburn is mostly a physical player. Cooper will likely dress seven defensemen, but they don’t have the shutdown ability that the Capitals do.

This is a pretty even matchup when you compare the two teams. The Lightning have a better forward group, the Rangers have a better defensive group, and both teams have good goalies. Henrik Lundqvist is rested and locked in, playing some of the best playoff hockey in his career, and Ben Bishop just outdueled Carey Price. It comes down to this; can the best defense in the NHL shut down the best offense in the NHL?

This is what the Rangers need to do in order to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

1) Special Teams

ryan mcdonagh 5-13

Ryan McDonagh is a key piece of both the power play and the penalty kill, two facets of the Rangers game that need to be strong in order to take down the Lightning. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


A big reason for the Rangers success in the postseason this year has been their ability to kill penalties, and score timely power play goals. They’ve faced Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin on the man advantage, allowing them to score just one power play goal on 26 opportunities combined. That’s impressive considering the talent that they faced.

The Lightning don’t quite have the power play specialist like the Capitals have in Alex Ovechkin, but Steven Stamkos is no slouch. In the regular season, he scored 13 goals on the man advantage. After going just 2-27 in the first round, they improved to 7-20 on the power play against the Canadiens.

Instead of set plays, they’ve been getting more shots on goal, and looking for deflections, screens, and rebound chances. They move the puck well, often making passes across the royal road (center ice) before taking a shot. Stamkos sometimes positions himself similarly to Ovechkin, taking one timers or utilizing his super accurate wrist shot from one of the faceoff circles.

The Rangers did a very good job of limiting the chances Ovechkin had from that spot, as well as preventing shots through the royal road. The Capitals scored just one power play goal in seven games. They finished first in the entire league in the regular season.

The Rangers are 6-38 on the power play (15.8%), but five of the goals have come in wins. They may not score a lot of power play goals, but when they do, they’re usually at big moments. Kevin Hayes scored a power play goal in Game 7 to tie the game, and Chris Kreider’s goal with .3 seconds remaining in the first period of Game 6 helped give the Rangers a bigger lead. If New York can score timely goals on the man advantage, and limit Stamkos and the Lightning’s effectiveness on the power play, they have a good shot at winning the series.

2) Manage defensive matchups

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Marc Staal and Kevin Klein will play a bigger role in this series. The Lightning have a lot of different guys who are legitimate scoring threats, so defensive matchups will be key. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.


The Capitals had one killer line, which was their top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and either Joel Ward or Marcus Johansson. Apart from that, there wasn’t a lot of depth on the team. Outside of Ovechkin, only Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to consistently create chances.

The Lightning are very, very different. Steven Stamkos works well with whoever plays on his wings, like Ryan Callahan or Alex Killorn. But their second line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat is just as good as the top line, probably better. Brian Boyle scored 15 goals as a third and fourth line center, and Cedric Paquette and Valteri Filppula each scored 12 goals.

This means the Rangers can’t throw Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi out against Stamkos’ line and expect to limit their offense. They have to worry about at least three lines that can all score goals. Alain Vigneault will have to manage his defensemen, sometimes splitting McDonagh and Girardi to best contain Tampa’s explosive offense. Marc Staal and Kevin Klein will have bigger roles in this series, and they’ll be facing some tough competition.

3) Dictate the pace of play

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The Rangers will have more opportunities to use their speed in this game, but they need to be wise when choosing when to use their breakouts and transition game. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


In the first two rounds, the Rangers’ opponents focused on eliminating New York’s speed and transition game, and trying to get them to play a dump-and-chase game. The Rangers never abandoned their style of play, and were able to counter that well enough to win both series. But now, it’s actually their time dictate the pace of play.

The Rangers are a quick team, which could play right into the Lightning’s hands. John Cooper and his team have no problem getting into a track meet type of game, because they also thrive in that style. Plenty of guys on their team are fully capable of matching the Rangers speed and generating chances on the counter attack and through their transition game.

Alain Vigneault would be smart to try and limit Tampa’s speed and transition game from the equation. Now this doesn’t mean that Vigneault has to go into full lockdown defensive mode, but they can’t allow the Lightning to control the game with their skilled forwards.

The Rangers use “smart” speed. It’s not three guys just bursting down the ice. Vigneault uses calculated breakout plays that utilize guys like Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin. One such example would be the Stepan pass off of the boards to Kreider speeding down the wing. Combine these plays with the calculated risks by defensemen to join the rush, and the Rangers can institute their style of play.

4) Time breakouts/stretch passes

This relates back to my third point. The Rangers can’t just haphazardly attempt the blue line to blue line passes they like to try, and they can’t just try to skate carelessly through the neutral zone. The Lightning are quick enough to capitalize on any mistakes that the Rangers make. They can punish the Rangers for any errors for any mistakes more than the Capitals or Penguins could, so Vigneault and his team needs to be careful.

5) Use their size

The “Triplets,” the nickname for the line of Johnson, Kucherov and Palat, are a very skilled line and an extreme scoring threat, with 17 goals and 14 assists between the three of them. But they’re also very small, averaging around 5’9” in height.

The Rangers have the upper hand here, with some large forwards that could really take advantage of the mismatch. Chris Kreider (6’3”) is known for utilizing his size and strength, but other players like JT Miller (6’2”), Rick Nash (6’3”) and Kevin Hayes (6’5”) all have quite a big advantage on their side.

If all of these players can use their size and strength to their benefit, they can push the Lightning’s smaller forwards around, and get to the areas of the ice where they can create better scoring chances.

6) Get Bishop moving and shoot at his left side

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This picture demonstrates it all. Jesper Fast scores a goal on December 1st against Ben Bishop by making him move laterally, getting him caught on the far post, and passing across the royal road for a tap in. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


Being a 6-foot-7 goalie has a lot of advantages. You almost never have to worry about being screened, especially since skates add at least another two inches in height. Even when Bishop is down in the butterfly, he’s still able to take up a lot of his space with his shoulders.

But there are some significant downsides as well. It’s a long distance down to the ice, leaving a big goalie more susceptible to five-hole goals and goals around the pads. With the NHL a very fast game now, guys like Bishop have a tougher time moving to the puck. Also, once a bigger goalie is in motion, since they have more weight and mass, it takes longer for them to get back to their original position and defend the other post.

When it comes to all goalies in the league, passes across the royal road (Imaginary line through center of each net) that force the goalie to move laterally and give them less time to react to a shot (below the top of the faceoff circle), meaning pucks are more likely to go in. But when it comes to Bishop, this is very prominent when it comes to Bishop.

In the regular season, 62 percent of the goals that Bishop allowed involved lateral movement, and 30 percent of those were pucks moving across the royal road. Against the Red Wings, eight of the 13 goals involved lateral movement, with six over the royal road. Against the Canadiens, five of their 10 goals involved lateral movement.

Getting Bishop moving side to side opens up some holes due to his large frame, and gives the Rangers a much better chance of scoring goals. Bishop also gets caught outside his post on the blocker side, leaving him susceptible to goals on his left side. With enough patience, skaters could catch Bishop down on the ice and reaching early, and leaving gaps near the post and above his glove or left pad.

This will be a close matchup, with the best offense in the NHL against the best defense and playoff goalie in the league. Control the pace of play, use the defensemen wisely, and exploit Bishop’s weaknesses.

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Posted on May 16, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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