Let this sink in for a moment going into the New York Rangers meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning: In Tampa’s nearly 30 years of existence they have faced a tri-state hockey team eight different times in the playoffs and they lost the series just twice when it happened. No New York area team has beaten the Lightning in the playoffs since 2007, when the New Jersey Devils knocked them out in the first round.
The New York Islanders fell to the Lightning the previous two seasons in the conference finals as Tampa Bay went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now it’s on the New York Rangers to do what the Islanders haven’t been able to do for two years, and they themselves failed to do in 2015.
And that’s finding a way to beat Tampa Bay, which has quickly become hockey’s new title town.
The core of what has made the Lightning have remained intact and they’ve shown they can continue to battle through anything that gets thrown at them. But so have the scrappy New York Rangers, who have been counted as underdogs throughout their surprise run this postseason.
They’ve battled back from being down 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and rallied from a 0-2 hole in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes. Tampa Bay will prove to be a different animal for New York, but the Rangers have shown an ability to overcome the odds.
“I think we’ve come together and we’ve always believed in each other,” said Ryan Strome, who is facing the Lightning in the playoffs for the first time since he was with the Islanders during their 2016 playoff run. “It’s nice to be rewarded a little bit now. We put in a lot of hard work the last two, three seasons. We’ve continued to build and we’ve come up here and we’ve sat here and we’ve come to work every day. We’ve said the right things and to see that pay off is a nice feeling.
“We’re halfway to our goal and we really believe that. It’s definitely been a nice climb for the group of us that have been through it.”
A New York team to finally take down Tampa Bay for the first in 15 years would be an even sweeter win for a Rangers team that has endeared itself to the city. The Blue Shirts have given New York a new sense of hope for the long title drought to finally come to an end.
NYCFC captured an MLS title last season, but for Big Apple sports fans there is something special about the Mets, Yankees, Jets Giants, Knicks Nets, Rangers or Islanders winning a championship. This season’s Rangers have done a lot to endear themselves to the area.
“There certainly has been no quit throughout the season,” Rangers general manager Chris Drury said. “You battle through different things up and down during the year and you find different ways to win. We certainly did that throughout the season and both series to be able to come back and win some big games on the road. Take care of stuff in our building and a resilient bunch that really has had no quit since day 1.”
For more New York Rangers news, visit AMNY.com
The Rangers will need that attitude to continue into the conference finals, which they haven’t been to since 2015.
Tampa Bay has reigned supreme over New York’s hockey clubs in the postseason. Now it’s on the Rangers to end that trend to extend their surprise season a little bit longer.