Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. (USATSI)
Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Daily Picks, where CBS hockey writers Chris Peters and Adam Gretz get you ready for every game every day of the postseason and share their predictions for each.
And then there were four.
The 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs are down to the final four teams, and the conference finals kick off Saturday afternoon with the New York Rangers, playing in their third conference finals in four years, hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The obvious intrigue here for Saturday involves Ryan Callahan for two different reasons.
First, there is the fact he could be back in the Tampa Bay lineup less than a week after undergoing an emergency appendectomy that forced him to miss the series-clinching game against the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. He is still a game-time decision but was on the ice for practice each of the past two days. But beyond that, there is also the angle that has him and Martin St. Louis, the player he was traded for last season, going up against their former teams with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.
St. Louis didn’t really want to talk about that aspect of the series Friday and instead called the Lightning just another team standing between him and his goal of winning the Stanley Cup again. Neither player has had a particularly strong postseason, but both are top-line players for their respective teams.
The Lightning are one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the NHL and not only have a roster that contains Steven Stamkos, one of the top two goal scorers in the world right now, but is also one of the deepest teams in the league and boasts several lines that can score. The Rangers have already had to go up against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom this postseason and has managed to if not completely shut them down, at least limit their effectiveness enough to keep pulling out close wins.
And if the rest of the Rangers’ postseason to date is any indicator, you should probably expect yet another close game Saturday.
Every game the Rangers have played this postseason has been decided by a single goal, with eight out of 12 ending with a 2-1 final score. Another ended 1-0.
Pick: Rangers 3, Lightning 2
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: One of the biggest reasons all of the Rangers’ postseason games have been such low-scoring affairs: Goaltending. Specifically their own. Lundqvist has been consistently great for the Rangers for several years now, including the playoffs, and so far this postseason he is playing some of his best hockey with a .944 save percentage through his first 12 playoff games.
2. Rick Nash, New York Rangers: He only has two goals in 12 playoff games, but he is just one point off of the team lead in overall scoring and has been a consistent playmaker for the Rangers every time he is on the ice. He is constantly around the net, he is getting chances, and he is playing a complete game in all three zones.
3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning: One of the leading Conn Smythe Trophy contenders through the first two rounds, Johnson has 12 points in 13 games, including an NHL-leading eight goals this postseason.
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