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Lightning energized for series with Rangers

The Lightning open their Eastern Conference final matchup with New York on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, right, beats Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) to the puck during a December game.
Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, right, beats Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) to the puck during a December game. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published May 31|Updated May 31

TAMPA — The Lightning are the defending champion that refuses to go away, and they can see a lot of similarities in the resolve of their Eastern Conference final opponent.

The Rangers have been resilient, winning two Game 7s after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Penguins in the first round, then rallying from down 2-0 and 3-2 to beat the Hurricanes in the second round.

“That probably says something about the character in their room,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday.

The Lightning flew to New York following practice at Amalie Arena for their Game 1 meeting with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

“At this time of the year, when you’re down to four, it’s going to be four elite teams,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “(The Rangers are) an elite team. They have the blueprint to be an elite team.”

The Lightning had nine days off since sweeping the Panthers in the second round. The Rangers return to action two days after their clincher against Carolina.

“I can speak for our group that we’re as hungry and desperate and as willing to do whatever it takes at this point to try and keep this journey going here,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “So we’ve had a lot of time to think and prep, and now we know our opponent and it’s exciting that we get to go out and finally play (Wednesday).”

The Lightning took advantage of the layoff to give banged-up players rest, but their pre-flight practice Tuesday was their fourth in six days. Included were a pair of scrimmages to keep their legs ready, and some small space drills to simulate physicality and puck possession. Tuesday’s session featured a good amount of special teams drills.

“Guys are energized, guys are excited, guys are slowly starting to heal,” Cooper said. “Is that going to equate into a Game 1 win? I guess we’ll have to see. But I know that the guys are ready.”

The Rangers won all three regular-season meetings with the Lightning, but defenseman Victor Hedman said he doesn’t look too much into those games because both teams are playing at a higher level in the postseason.

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“At the end of the day, we know what kind of team they are,” Hedman said. And they’ve obviously had our number in the regular season, but this is a different time of the year. … They’ve had two hard-fought series that have gone to seven games.”

Both Stamkos and Hedman were part of the 2015 Lightning team that beat the Rangers in seven games in the conference final.

“It’s going to be a fun series. Me and Stammer have been a part of this before seven years ago,” Hedman said. “So it’ll be a great, great time again to go up to New York and it’s a good building (Madison Square Garden) to play in, so we’re super excited.”

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