For the third time in four years, the New York Rangers will play in the Eastern Conference Finals – an incredible feat. But after barely surviving an emotional seven-game series against Washington, do the Rangers have enough left in the tank to beat Tampa Bay? Won’t it be tough to get up for the Lightning once the euphoria from their Game 7 win over the Capitals wears off? Especially with such a quick turnaround?
“I don’t think so,” NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think more than anything else, the fact that they were able to get through the Pittsburgh series in five games – and it wasn’t an overly physical series – I think that helped them. If that had gone seven games like the Islanders and the Washington Capitals did and it had the carnage factor of the Islanders and the Capitals, I think you’d have a point. I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal. We play 82 games during the regular season. The guys are used to the wear and tear. Outside of Mats Zuccarello (concussion), I don’t think there are a lot of Rangers that have major medical issues, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem for them.”
Maybe not physically, but what about emotionally? The Rangers have played 14 straight one-goal games. They were down 3-1 against Washington and had to win three straight to advance.
Can the Rangers continue to live on the edge?
“It’ll be tougher this round, I can tell you that because Tampa Bay can score and they’ve got scoring depth on all four lines,” McGuire said. “So that’s where it’s going to be a bit of a problem to live that way. Obviously they got a great asset in goal in Henrik Lundqvist, who, I think if they were giving out the Conn Smythe Trophy (for) the MVP of the playoffs so far, I think Lundqvist would probably be that guy, especially because of the amount of one-goal games that they’ve had to win.
“I went through this twice as a coach, winning the Stanley Cup in the early ’90s in Pittsburgh,” McGuire continued. “One of the things you find out when you go through it, especially a second time, is how important it is to build up a hard shell. You don’t win unless you’re battle tested and you have a hard shell. I think one of the things that’s happened with the Rangers, they have built up this hard shell.”
The Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh last year and did the same thing against Washington this year.
“That’s resilience,” McGuire said. “That’s character. That’s the hard shell I’m alluding to. I think the Rangers are in a good spot, but it will not be easy if they don’t have a lot more offense in this round against Tampa.”
The Rangers host Game 1 on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, with Game 2 to follow Monday at 8 p.m. ET.