The New York Rangers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the teams with the best regular season records in their respective conferences, each held serve at home in Game 1 of their conference finals matchups. New York nipped Tampa 2-1 in a good battle at Madison Square Garden, while Anaheim got an early lead on Chicago and won 4-1. Here’s a brief look back on both games….
NY Rangers 2 Tampa Bay 1: A brilliant team-wide defensive performance by the Rangers was the key in what was an aggressive fast-paced game that should have favored offense, but both defenses repeatedly broke up passes and prevented crisp passing and clean rhythm.
Tampa Bay, the more talented offensive team, only got 24 shots on goal. Someone has to put out an APB for Steven Stamkos, who seems bound and determined to replace Alex Ovechkin as the best regular season offensive player in the NHL, with all the “damning with faint praise” that’s implied.
Stamkos only took one shot on goal. Goals against Henrik Lundqvist are going to be hard enough, but if you’re best scorer isn’t shooting, it’s going to be almost impossible. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for six shots, a number that would be tolerable if Stamkos could get his own cracks at the net.
Derek Stepan, who put New York in the conference finals with his Game 7 OT goal against Washington, kept it going with the first goal of the game. Derick Brassard was aggressive, with six shots and assisted on the game-winner with 2:25 left in the third period.
Anaheim 4 Chicago 1: Goaltender Frederik Anderson carried the Ducks through the first period, stopping all 16 shots the talented Blackhawk offense fired at him. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was inconsistent again, giving up two goals in the first two periods in spite of facing moderate pressure. Anaheim led 2-0 in the second period and took over the final period.
Chicago has to feel reasonably good about the flow of play. The held a good Anaheim offense to just 27 shots, while getting 33 of their own. Moreover, the Ducks’ best scorers, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were kept off the puck.
That should speak to a Blackhawk win, but when your goaltender is repeatedly outplayed, it’s going to take an even more dominant edge, one that’s extremely difficult to do at this level of the postseason, for obvious reasons.
Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm stepped up with the first goal of the game and an assist on the goal that made it 3-1 in the third and all but iced the game.
Conference finals action rolls on tonight when the Rangers host the Lightning for Game 2 (8 PM ET) and tomorrow when the Ducks and Blackhawks play again from Anaheim (9 PM ET). Both games are on NBC Sports Network.