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article imageBoth impending NHL semi-final series evenly matched

By Mark J. Allan     May 15, 2015 in Sports
A classic clash of styles is guaranteed in the Stanley Cup final no matter what happens in the next round of the playoffs.
The East final of the NHL playoffs between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning matches teams with plenty of speed, playmaking and scoring.
In the West, the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks both play a heavier style, especially the Ducks, that includes elite offensive skill.
Rangers vs. Lightning
The most obvious storyline involves first-line right wingers Martin St. Louis and Ryan Callaghan, captains who were traded for each other last season.
Long an elite playmaker and scorer in Tampa, aging St. Louis is not that player anymore. Fifty-four points for the more-rounded Callaghan actually beat St. Louis by two. Both are looking for their first goal of these playoffs.
Expect St. Louis to give it all he’s got after leaving the Lightning with a bad taste in his mouth. A real gamer, Callaghan might be ready for the opening game in spite of missing Game Six against Montreal after having his appendix removed.
After a slow start in the opening round against Detroit, Steven Stamkos, who sniped 43 regular-season goals for the Lightning, has picked up the pace. He’s tied for eighth in playoff scoring with 10 points, including three goals.
Rick Nash, who led the Rangers with 42 goals this season, has two playoff goals and five assists yet has yet to shake his reputation as a sub-par post-season producer.
The Lightning led all teams with 262 goals this season and the Rangers tied for third with 252 en route to the league’s best record. Both teams know what to do with the puck.
Playoff series, though, usually are won by teams that prevent scoring.
A deep blueline corps and clutch netminder Henrik Lundqvist (second in goals-against average and save percentage) give the Rangers an edge over young counterpart Ben Bishop and a group of defensemen that has been expertly overhauled by GM Steve Yzerman.
Veteran blueliner Dan Boyle and speedy, undersized winger Mats Zuccarello might not be healthy enough to open the series for the Blueshirts. Callaghan is Tampa’s only question mark.
The Lightning outscored the Rangers 15-7 in three league wins, but New York is altering the league’s post-season record book.
Used to low-scoring, tight-checking, pressure-packed games, the Rangers have set a playoff record of being in 14 straight one-goal games.
Besides winning all four of their playoff overtime games, the Blueshirts have overcome 3-1 series deficits two seasons in a row. New York has won six straight Game Sevens.
If the Lightning are to prevail, their brilliant second line of youngsters Tyler Johnson between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat must keep producing, Stamkos must score and Bishop needs to at least be in the same vicinity as the brilliant King Henrik.
Falling short in the Stanley Cup final a year ago, the Rangers have too much playoff experience and too much desire to win it all this time.
Rangers in seven.
Ducks vs. Blackhawks
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are a terrific two for the Ducks. So are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the ‘Hawks.
Not convinced? This series features some of the brightest lights in the NHL constellation of stars.
Perry leads all playoff scorers with 15 points (plus being a pain to play against)and Kane is second with 13 points in spite of missing seven weeks at the end of the regular season with a broken collarbone.
Getzlaf and Johnson are even in third place with 12 points and Toews is tied with Kucherov at 11 points.
Defensively, five Ducks and four ‘Hawks are among the dozen players with the best plus-minus numbers.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith leads everyone at plus-12, followed closely by Perry and Kane at plus-8.
Anaheim’s blueliners match up well with Chicago’s in every respect except playoff experience. Hardened post-season veterans Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead, with help from the likes of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Hawks are forced to use young David Rundblad since vet Michal Rozsival is hurt, as is winger Kris Versteeg.
Some of Anaheim’s defensemen are young, but it’s such a deep and talented group that veteran acquisition James Wisniewski has been relegated to the press box. Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin, Simon Despres and Cam Fowler each have at least five points in nine games.
Veteran Corey Crawford won back the No. 1 netminding job after Chicago went to towering youngster Scott Darling for some of the previous round. Young Frederik Andersen has done well with a light workload, but lacks playoff experience.
Both teams are relatively well-rested after Chicago swept Minnesota in four straight quarter-final games and Anaheim took game but outmatched Calgary in five.
The ‘Hawks outscored the Ducks 8-3 in winning two of three league games that bear little resemblance to where both teams are now.
Both squads want to add to their Stanley Cup championships in the past eight years. The Blackhawks are particularly motivated, as some of their core will likely have to be jettisoned in the off-season to get under the 2015-16 salary cap.
Blackhawks in seven.
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