TAMPA, Fla. – Roll out the red carpet. The Lightning are headed to Broadway.
Well, the second part is true. As for the first, red carpets, welcome mats and the like will be nowhere to be found at the Garden when the Eastern Conference Final commences Wednesday night. After all, Rangers fans will have no interest in being hospitable hosts as their team and the Lightning battle for a trip to the Stanley Cup final.
The Rangers, who have owned the back pages of the New York tabloids for much of this spring, dominated Carolina in Game 7 on Monday night to the tune of 6-2. The win, in Raleigh, sends the Blueshirts to their first conference final since 2015.
You might recall the team that beat them that year. Indeed, it was the Lightning, who went on to lose to the Blackhawks in the Cup final. In fact, the Bolts’ seven-game series win was the only time the teams have met in the playoffs.
The Lightning, who have designs on winning a third straight Cup, have not played since May 22 when they swept the Panthers out of the second round. Hence, they are well rested, which the Rangers certainly are not after completing their second seven-game series. Gerard Gallant’s team also went the distance in the opening round against the Penguins.
It should not come as a major surprise that the Lightning and Rangers, who last played in a Stanley Cup final in 2012 when they lost to the Kings, are the last two teams standing in the East. After all, they were the only teams in the conference that went into the postseason tourney without any questions in goal.
Sure, Igor Shesterkin ran into a rough patch against the Penguins, but he certainly answered the bell against the ‘Canes by recording a 1.56 goals against average and a .953 save percentage in the series. Meanwhile, Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to be giant in the postseason. He shut the door on the Panthers (three goals allowed) and, in Game 4, recorded his sixth shutout in the Lightning’s last seven series-clinching games.
So, strap yourself in because this is going to a fun series. Here is the schedule:
Game 1: at NYR, Wednesday, June 1, 8 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: at NYR, Friday, June 3, 8 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: at TB, Sunday, June 5, 3 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: at TB, Tuesday, June 7, 8 p.m., ESPN
*Game 5: at NYR, Thursday, June 9, 8 p.m., TBD
*Game 6: at TB, Saturday, June 11, 8 p.m., TBD
*Game 7: at NYR, Tuesday, June 14, 8 p.m., TBD
* If necessary