What the Lightning’s success says about the New York Rangers

From left, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh. [DIRK SHADD, DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times; Associated Press]
From left, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh. [DIRK SHADD, DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times; Associated Press]
Published May 7 2018
Updated May 7 2018

TAMPA — No, the New York Rangers don't get a playoff share.

And why didn't they win a Cup with these guys?

Rangers South has become a booming industry in Tampa Bay. It's a major reason why the Lightning seemed poised to make a run that won't stop until it is on a first-name basis with Stanley.

Ryan Callahan. Anton Stralman. Dan Girardi. Ryan McDonagh. J.T. Miller.
They helped produce the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, one that hit its stride in dismantling the Bruins in the second round.

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Know what kept running through my head watching them?

Professionals.

Here are the guys who are there when you need them, to make a play, to block a shot, to get the puck out, no panic, dead calm.

Here is just the kind of ingredients that end up getting your name on the Cup, even though these five had never had their names on the Cup.

It's the kind of rock-ribbed defense Stralman, Girardi and McDonagh have brought.

It's the kind of grit Callahan has brought with linemates Cedric Paquette and Chris Kunitz. They were a nightmare for Boston whenever they were on the ice.

Meet the guys who have been around, been there, done that. They've been to a Cup final, been to a conference final, been most any place but the top. Girardi has played in 132 playoff games. McDonagh has played in 106. Stralman has played in 97. Think that doesn't help? Think that doesn't matter?

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had a plan. And these guys were part of it. And the plan is on course.

Callahan came first, in the 2014 Marty St. Louis trade, and brought a gritty style that not even injuries have sapped, or so it seems. Then came Stralman, who helped bring a quiet sturdiness, solidify the back line with Victor Hedman.

Then Girardi, before this season. We wondered what the 33-year-old had left on his tires. Who's wondering now?

Lastly came McDonagh and Miller, during the season. And they matter.

It goes beyond Girardi's overtime goal to win Game 4 in Boston, or Miller's game-winner Sunday, or Stralman's 175-foot wrister into an empty Boston net to seal the series. Callahan, after all he went through with licking bandit Brad Marchand, simply shook Marchand's hand and moved on after the game. Callahan's team still had work to do. Marchand's team had golf to play.

Professionals.

Yeah, I know, they all are.

But these guys are different.

Think it doesn't matter that Callahan and McDonagh have been captains?

Think it doesn't matter that Girardi and McDonagh were basically kicked to the curb by the Rangers?

Think Miller, teamed with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, doesn't bring more than a physical presence? He set up Stamkos' goal that tied Game 4, maybe the biggest goal of the season and of Stamkos' career.

Professionals.

It was McDonagh, in team meetings after the Bruins tore the Lightning to pieces in Game 1, who reminded his teammates that there was more in their tank.

"The vibe in the room was we were right there with them," McDonagh said. "But, in reality, we had some meetings and we weren't even close to where we needed to be. I think it was a wake-up call. We realized what was going to be successful for us was being hard on the forecheck, not turning the puck over …"

Playoff experience matters.

"A hundred percent it does," Callahan said. "You look at the games played with the Rangers, the playoff games played. It's in the hundreds. It matters. You've been in those situations before, you know the ups and downs."

McDonagh said, "I think the biggest aspect might not even be during the game, but the day between games, being around the guys, talking about what's going on, just being real focused, one game at a time, one day at a time, just the right mindset."

Stamkos is team captain. But he feels he has company. The Lightning has now played in three of the last four Eastern Conference finals. The Cup is still out there. Stamkos thinks this group is different.

"The leadership core that we have in the room," he said. "You can throw Chris Kunitz in there as well. I don't know if you have the words for it. A lot of it isn't things that are said. It's things that are done behind the scenes, not even on the ice. As a captain of the team, it's so fun to have those guys to lean on."

Forget Rangers South

They're part of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A big part.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029

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