Oilers, Rangers and Avalanche out to stop Tampa Bay as Stanley Cup Conference Finals get underway
Edmonton face Colorado in the Western Conference with reigning champions Tampa Bay set to face the New York Rangers.
NY Rangers-Tampa Bay Lightning
The New York Rangers triumphed 6-2 away from home in Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, securing their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It is the second consecutive series that the Rangers have had to come from behind in – coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3, before falling behind 3-2 against the Hurricanes and winning back-to-back games with their season on the line.
For a Game 7, it was relatively painless for New York, with first-period strikes to Adam Fox and Chris Kreider, before a Ryan Strome goal made it 3-0 Rangers at the end of the second period as goaltender Igor Shesterkin proved impenetrable early.
With the Hurricanes desperate for an early one in the third term, Kreider stuck the dagger in with his second goal to make it 4-0. Carolina finally got their first goal eight minutes into the last period through Vincent Trocheck, but any dream of a comeback was extinguished less than a minute later by Filip Chytil’s reply.
Kreider, after scoring twice, was quick to pass the spotlight to who he felt was the match-winner, and highlighted how his Rangers refuse to lie down.
“Obviously, our goaltender [Shesterkin] was once again our best player,” he said.
Shesterkin himself said the early lead took the pressure off, and looked forward to his match-up against compatriot Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We scored two quick goals and it helped me so much,’ he said. “I just tried to [do] my job – stop the puck.
“[Vasilevskiy] is the best goalie in the world right now. I think it’ll be a good battle.”
When asked about the impending matchup against the Lightning, Fox said he will not lose much sleep over his side’s rest disadvantage.
“I’m not sure to be honest – obviously [the Lightning] getting a little rest is good for their guys, but we’re in hockey mode,” he said. “We’re in playoff mode, and we want to keep the momentum rolling.
“It could be good for us, but obviously a good test as well.”
Edmonton Oilers-Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon did not shy away from the reality facing his side in the Western Conference Finals – calling Edmonton Oilers poster boy Connor McDavid “the best”.
To advance through to the Western Conference Finals, the Avalanche swept the Nashville Predators in the first round, and then handled the strong challenge of the St. Louis Blues to win the series 4-2.
For the Oilers, they were forced to go seven games against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, before making it look easier against the Calgary Flames, winning their second-round series 4-1.
MacKinnon is a star in his own right, seventh in the league in points per game (1.35), and the best player on the Western Conference’s best team – but when asked about his side’s plan to deal with reigning MVP McDavid, he said it would take more than one man.
“I’m not really thinking about [McDavid] a whole lot, but obviously I see that stuff,” he said.
“I think he’s the best, I’ve said it. I think he’s been the best for a little bit now, and it’s going to take a full team effort to stop him.”
McDavid led the league in total points (123) and points per game (1.54), and has been named to the NHL First All-Star Team in four of his six seasons.
When he was asked about his side’s plan to deal with MacKinnon, he opted to not mention his opposing star by name.
“They’re a good team over there,” he said. “I’ve learned that over the last couple of years. “This year is no different. They’ve got some real good players, and they’re really good all around.”
Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar was willing to dive a little deeper into what he thinks of the two stars.
“There’s a lot of similarities between MacKinnon and McDavid,” he said. “But at the same time, they’re very different playing styles.
“McDavid’s very good off the rush, and very fast, and he’s got the quick steps right at the beginning.
“They’re both such electric players, and McDavid’s been the driving force for them as well as their other top guys. “He’ll be a good test, but we’re all excited.”
The man in charge of keeping McDavid off the scoresheet – Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper – said he was also looking forward to testing himself against the best.
“It’s a fun challenge for sure,” he said. “[McDavid] is an electric, dynamic player. “He’s creating every time he’s on ice. Like [Makar] said, there’s similarities between their games, but at the same time, they’re different players. It’s a fun challenge. “You want to face the best players in the world, and we’re looking forward to it.”