SPORTS

NHL playoffs: 4 things to know for Saturday

05/16/2015 11:35 EDT | Updated 05/16/2016 05:59 EDT
You know the NHL playoffs are a grind when you look back at the first two rounds and think of all the close games and then realize that the final four teams still playing are only halfway to a Stanley Cup championship.
Here are 4 things to know about the Rangers and the Lightning who begin round 3 Saturday.

Consistent Rangers

Two almost certainties right off the bat about the New York Rangers are that they aren't going to give up many goals and that they don't wilt under the pressure of tight games. Saturday they begin the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET).

The Rangers have reached the Eastern Conference final three times in four years and earned home ice advantage by setting franchise records for wins (53) and points (113) in capturing the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team.

2-1 is their favourite winning score. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in all four of their first round wins by that score and then finished off the Washington Capitals by winning the final three games of the series, two of them by 2-1 scores. The clincher came compliments of Derek Stepan in Game 7, in overtime. 

It was the NHL-record 14th consecutive one-goal game for the Rangers, going back to last year and including a dozen games this season. Those type of dramatic, close games are where goaltender Henrik Lundqvist excels. He's sporting a 1.60 goals against average in 12 playoff games and held Washington to 12 goals in the seven-game conference semifinal.

Dominant Lighting

First the good news for the Lightning. They were 3-0-0 vs. the Rangers in the regular season. Just like the dominance they showed against the Montreal Canadiens (5-0-0 regular season) that stretched to eight wins in a row including the post-season, before the Canadiens bounced back to extend the series to six games.

The only problem with those Lightning victories is that they came in a two-week period between November 17 and December 1. After that, the Rangers caught fire and won 13 of their next 14 games and started a trip to the top of the NHL standings.

Still the Lightning have an extra day of rest and several other things adding to their positive momentum, Not the least of them was captain Steven Stamkos coming alive in the series against the Canadiens. He moved into the Top 10 in playoff scorers and had a pair of goals against the Habs, including the game-winner in Game 6.

Stamkos has had plenty of offensive help from the so-called second line of Tyler Johnson (8 goals), Nikita Kucherov (6) and Ondrej Palat (3) which has accounted for half of the Lightning goals (17 of 34).

Ben Bishop has been exceptional in goal, as well, with a 1.81 goals-against average.

One-goal games

About those one-goal games. It's not just the Rangers and the Caps who fought through seven games each decided by a single marker. It's every team, even in the higher-scoring Western Conference.

For the final four combatants, you know all about the Rangers with seven one-goal games in the second round, and the Lightning played three such games of their half dozen, while the Chicago Blackhawks were involved in three one-goal games in their four-game sweep of the Minnesota Wild. Even the Anaheim Ducks who opened round two with a 6-1 romp against the Calgary Flames, were involved in three one-goal games in their five-game series against the Flames.

Playoff hockey, it's almost like sudden death, right from the start of each game.

Report from sick bay

Keeping in mind that whichever team goes on to win the Stanley Cup will need eight more victories to accomplish that goal, injuries and the grind of the playoffs means there's more attrition to come in terms of injuries. Chicago lost defenceman Michal Rozsival with a broken ankle in round 2, but here's the report from sick bay for the Lightning and the Rangers.

Former Rangers' captain Ryan Callahan (traded for ex-Lightning captain Martin St. Louis) underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday. By Thursday, he was back practicing with the Lightning. The Lightning are saying he'll be a game-time decision for Saturday's game 1.

The RangersDan Boyle, rocked by a hard check Wednesday, returned to practice on Friday so he's likely to play. Tanner Glass didn't practice so he, too, is a game-time decision. Mats Zuccarello who was hit in the face by a shot in the opening round against Pittsburgh, hasn't returned to practice and is day to day.

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