It is not that the New York Rangers want to play tight playoff games.It’s just that they understand how to play in those matches.
“We’re just calm out there,” Dan Girardi said after the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven one game to none, with Game 2 set for Monday at the Garden (8 p.m., NBCSN).
The Rangers’ 13th game in these playoffs was their 13th determined by a single goal. Dating back to Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have played 15 playoff games decided by one goal.
“We’re not nervous,” Girardi said. “We’re like, they tied it up, no big deal. They make a good play on it, make a good shot. We just stick to our game plan. We never deviate from it. I think that’s what helps us in the one-goal games.”
So, too, does a solid defensive approach.
While much has been written about the Rangers’ 2.00 goals scored per game average in these playoffs, what has been overlooked is their 1.62 goals against average in the tournament.
Against the fourth highest scoring team in the postseason, the defensive structure was a significant component to the Game 1 win. The Lightning were limited to 24 shots on goal and only attempted 50 shots. Steven Stamkos, Tampa’s leading goal scorer in the regular season, was held to one shot on goal and two attempted shots in 19:32 of ice time.
“When we’re in that position almost every night, you keep your focus on the right things,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 23 saves in Game 1. “That’s what it comes down to. We all understand every play matter throughout the game. We’re that close every game. So all the board battles and making the right plays in our end, it matters. So to keep your focus throughout the game is key.
“I think we also have confidence in our group when it comes down to it because we believe in each other and the system we have. It’s always a good feeling to go into the third and just try to push yourself to get that win.”
Tampa’s lone goal was Ondrej Palat’s power play marker at the 6:45 mark of the third period, and underscored the Lightning’s offensive depth. Tampa’s Triplets Line of Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has been key to the Lightning’s success throughout the season and the playoffs.
Johnson tied Stamkos for the team lead in points with 72. Kucherov finished the regular season with 65 points, while Palat had 63.
Johnson’s eight goals lead all NHLers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kucherov’s 11 playoff points are second on the Lightning, behind only Johnson’s 13. Palat ranks fourth on the team with nine points.
“We need to focus on their top players,” Lundqvist said. “They’re moving the puck really well and they have a lot of speed. If you lose the puck in the wrong areas, you’re going to see the speed even more. So I think we did a really good job of putting pucks in the right place, and that when [we] really slowed them down a little bit.
“But they also showed–especially on their power play–the skill they have and how they can move the puck. So it’s something we have to remember going forward.”