First things first, the Eastern Conference Finals schedule:
|1||Saturday 5/16||1 PM||MSG||NBC, CBC, TVA|
|2||Monday 5/18||8 PM||MSG||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
|3||Wednesday 5/20||8 PM||Amalie||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
|4||Friday 5/22||8 PM||Amalie||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
|*5||Sunday 5/24||8 PM||MSG||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
|*6||Tuesday 5/26||8 PM||Amalie||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
|*7||Friday 5/29||8 PM||MSG||NBCSN, CBC, TVA|
The storylines cranked up immediately, with everyone involved seeming to wink and nudge as if they knew they were taking part in copy-generating drama. Jon Cooper summed it up best:
"I’m a big believer in anything that is going to open a storyline, or bring peoples’ attention to the game. That’s a good thing. ... This is good for the game," Cooper said. "How often do two captains get traded for each other and then going to end up going against each other in the Eastern Conference final? You can’t make stuff up. It’s a pretty appealing story." (ESPN)
The old Tampa C and the new Tampa C both resisted the reporters a bit more, proffering practical responses that flew in the face of the older narrative. St Louis acknowledged that he'd always have friends in the other organization, but "This is playoff hockey. We've got the rest of our lives to be friends. This is right now a team that's in our way of getting where we want to be." (NHL)
Old friends aside, there are plenty of storylines to follow heading into this game. The most interesting one is the battle between the goaltenders. Ben Bishop has been the underdog in every matchup he's had so far, "outshone" by the likes of Red Wings rookie Petr Mrazek and potential Vezina-winner Carey Price. Still, somehow, he's managed to win each series.
shaky ben bishop with 22 shaky saves through two periods. don't like tampa bay's chances if he keeps shakily stopping every puck he faces.— Fear The Fin (@fearthefin) May 2, 2015
But will Ben Bishop be the equal of Henrik Lundqvist? NHL.com neatly picked apart each goaltender, noting that while Lundqvist plays deep and makes quick, short movements, Bishop tends to play farther out of the crease, relying on his size to make up for his positioning.
Borrowed from NHL.com, thanks guys!
The article points out that while Lundqvist's weaknesses are due to his reliance on the slightly older half-butterfly system that opens up rebound opportunities on glove shots, Bishop's weaknesses are due to being caught outside of his post on his blocker side. Which one is better? Lundqvist clearly has the advantage in record and history, but the past twelve games that he's played shows a tiny bit of hope for the Bolts (all stats are from War on Ice):
Lundqvist (12 games played):
Bishop (13 games played):
See the tiny weakness? It's probably due to Small Sample Size and being pitted against Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Alexander Ovechkin, but Lundqvist is worse at facing high quality shots than Bishop. This bodes well for a team with players that are excellent at putting in high quality shots, Tyler Johnson and that other guy who woke up during the Montreal series, Steven Stamkos.
Obviously, Lundqvist blows Bishop away for regular season stats, despite his injury-shortened year.
But on to the other reasons why
the Rangers are going to beat the Bolts the Bolts are going to beat the Rangers this is going to be a close series, some interesting stats from the regular season via Sportsnet:
Lightning: 5on5CF% – 53.3; 5on5Sv% – .919; 5on5Sh% – 9.03; PDO = 101.0
Rangers: 5on5CF% - 49.6; 5on5Sv% - .931; 5on5Sh% - 8.97; PDO = 102.1
If only this continued to be true post-season, but it's not. For reasons that have left many Bolts fans scratching their heads, post-season possession has plummeted despite winning two series. In the words of the people over at Blueshirt Banter:
In three regular season games this year the Lightning outscored the Rangers 15-7 at all strengths and generally out played them in every game on route to putting together a very impressive season for such a young squad (they finished the season at 51.3% possession at all strengths).
In the playoffs, however, the Lightning are only pulling down a 48% possession share through their 13 games and have looked very beatable. The Rangers are, for the most part, playing their game; sitting at a 51.3% possession share through 12 games and have done a great job at shutting down potent offensive players this post season. (BSB)
So. Hold onto your butts! This'll be an interesting series.