There are several storylines that I will be covering for the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. The storylines can start with Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman each facing the team they played for last season in this season’s Eastern Conference Finals. This series features two teams that play a similar speed and transition game with excellent defense and goaltending. Today we are going to take a look at my pick for the X-Factors for each team. I believe this is the player that has to step up and contribute night in and night out in this series for their team to win.
Tampa Bay- Ondrej Palat
The LW of the Triplets Line is the player that I believe will be a key contributor for the Lightning in this series. Tyler Johnson scored 6 goals in the 1st round against the Detroit Red Wings and Nikita Kucherov scored 6 goals in the 2nd round against the Montreal Canadiens (both tying Ruslan Fedotenko’s team record for most goals in a playoff series). I believe this is the round for Palat to step up and be even more dominant offensively. Palat is an excellent play-making winger that is very good at retrieving pucks and going hard to the net. Palat has 3 goal, 5 assists, and 8 points in the playoffs so far. His chemistry with Tyler Johnson is unreal, and the two understand each other’s game extremely well having played together for a few seasons in the American Hockey League. Palat has made a few big time plays in these playoffs. His two best were both on give-and-go plays with his linemates. In game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings it was Ondrej Palat who finished a give-and-go with Tyler Johnson to tie the game late in the 3rd.
In the next series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Ondrej Palat scored another big goal on a give-and-go play. Palat had the puck at the top of the right faceoff circle and sent a pass to Kucherov in the corner down low. Palat skated straight for the net while Kucherov took his time and fed the puck right back to Palat who beat Carey Price far side by his blocker to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead and put the series away.
Palat: “We tried to find a way how we played in the regular season the last couple of games in the playoffs and we found it today.”
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) May 13, 2015
Palat is an excellent two-way forward and I expect him to continue to play at a very high level in this series.
New York Rangers- Chris Kreider
The developing power-forward is going to do his best to create havoc this series. Ever since he arrived on the scene as a rookie in the 2012 playoffs, Kreider has shown world-class speed.
Kreider’s game continues to get better and he is always at his best in the playoffs. His speed, net-front presence, and confidence to challenge defenseman and play more physical are his strengths. This play from his first shift in Game 6 of this years series against Washington is a perfect example of his speed, power, creativity, determination and ability to score goals in big games.
Kreider is a clutch performer in the playoffs that is always very noticeable in tight-checking games. Kreider is tied for the team lead in goals this Stanley Cup Playoffs with Derek Brassard. Kreider and Brassard each have scored 5 goals including a power play and game-winning goal.
Since his first NHL game in the 2012 playoffs, Kreider leads the Rangers in playoff goals with 16. Kreiders line centered by Derek Stepan and rookie Jesper Fast on the other wing might just be matched up with Ondrej Palat’s Triplets Line. If that happens it is going to be the matchup to watch.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.