NYR/TBL Game 7 Preview & ECF Series Review Thus Far with TBL Rawcharge.com Reporter Johnny Fontana: Looking at The Biggest Game of The Rangers & Bolts Season & More

Here we go again…

After doing a successful Point-Counterpoint Blog, previewing the Eastern Conference Finals, with John Fontana, of http://www.rawcharge.com, a site that covers the Tampa Bay Lightning, I decided to sit down and chat again with John. This time, John and I preview Game 7 and talk this wild Eastern Conference Finals. Fontana has been just as diehard about his Bolts, as most of you have been about the Rangers. I always enjoy these conversations with reporters from other teams, as we get to see a different perspective.  I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Sean McCaffrey: John, it’s a pleasure to have you back here on DOINOW.com. I would like to thank you for your time again. Leave it our mutual love for the NHL, that we are able to debate once more, this Rangers vs Lightning Best of 7 series.

Since our NYR/TBL series preview, (You can read that preview here: http://doinow.com/pointcounterpoint-with-tampa-bay-lightning-reporter-john-fontana-previewing-the-eastern-conference-finals-talking-rangers-vs-bolts-callahan-vs-msl-bishop-vs-lundqvist-strengths-vs-weaknesses/) we’ve witnessed six unpredictable games. Both of us have had our ups and downs watching this series. Two weeks after our first conversation, we are left with the two best words in sports (If you are just a fan and have no rooting interest) “Game 7.”

One of us will be excited and going nuts Friday night. The other one will be depressed and just wonder “what if?”

Let’s start say the same way when previewed the series. John, how are you feeling and who do you like to win this series?

 John Fontana: Ah, the stomping grounds we’ve already tread… Point/Counterpoint and it’t take two. Lovely, lovely indeed. Now if we could just find someone in the media to actually take these conversations for the worth they hold — impassioned fans talking it out and not being a belligerent asshole in the process (hell, Mike Milbury). 

This series has played like the code for “Contra” for unlimited lives… Up-up-down-down-Rangers-Lightning-Rangers-Lightning.-select-start. 

I’m already on record as mumbling “this series doesn’t go 7 games” and I blew that one pretty damn good, now didn’t I?  How am I feeling, though? Agitated a bit. I still want my own team to win the series.

SM: How does Mike Milbury even have a job? I mean really? Out of anyone out there that covers hockey, played hockey, has a PS4 and plays NHL ’15, I mean really, Mike Milbury? A guy who destroyed the Islanders franchise so bad, that they are just now recovering from it?

This series is so unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen next. I have no clue what to expect at all in any of these games, nor know what’s in store for Game 7.

I went Rangers in 6 and that would’ve happened if that damn Lundqvist didn’t blow Game 3. What’s going on with our goalies? They are either having amazing games or shaky games. How is there no consistency in this series?

The biggest asshole in the NHL, Mike Milbury

JF: Mike Milbury holds a job either by way of friends in high places or compromising photos. Or probably compromising photos of friends in high places. He’s been at ESPN, he’s been at the Comcast station now known as NBC Sports Net (and previous versions of said station). The man is connected and an outright dick, but connected.

The one great quality for this series is the edge-of-your-seat aspect. Yeah, it leaves you guessing, you don’t know what will happen next.  That, my friend, is a thriller.

As for the goaltending… I’m not sure. If we talk game 6, that was a Tampa Bay collapse. Some of the narrative on Bishop out there right now is stupidity (“it could be a career altering situation if Bishop drops game 7”) that hasn’t seriously taken hold going the other way. Hank’s been just as inconsistent and no one thinks he’d be in trouble if he’d dropped game 6 or drops game 7.  The truth is both goalies are secure contract wise. They’ve been inconsistent facing a very strong opponent in the opposition. 

SM: It’s ironic how a man named Charlie Wang took over ownership of the Islanders and moved them out of Long Island, considering Milbury is the biggest wang in hockey.

I’m sorry, give me more Game 6’s, than this “edge-of-your” seat nonsense! I’m going to have a heart attack watching these games! It must be great to be watching these games with no rooting interest. Just like how I am when watching Chicago/Anaheim.

You can ask any Ranger fan you know, I’m known as the Talbot guy! You can read those blogs in the archives. How many teams, that pay their goalie Top 5 in the league money, have won cups? Sometimes it’s better to be more balanced, in my opinion. I’m also frustrated with these last 10 years that it hasn’t happened yet for him. Hopefully one day he will surpass Richter. He’s still overrated and overpaid, to me, for what it’s worth, when you compare his age and other goalie contracts. Kings don’t give up touchdowns two games in a row. Maybe Game 7 he will get his shutout, just like how Bishop got his.

It seems the best way for the Rangers to beat Bishop is to SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT, crash the net, find rebounds and deflect pucks. I feel Hank has given up a few soft wrist shots.

I have no clue what goalie for either team will show up for Game 7. For Tampa, is it the Bishop who has the shutout? Or the one who has given up 5 goals a few times? Will Hank live up to the hype and his Game 7 home record? Or will he be the guy who gives up a touchdown?

I hate to sound confident, but Lundqvist vs Bishop in a Game 7, you have to feel that Lundqvist has the advantage since he’s been in this pressure cooker 6 times before, and won every single one of them. Then again, there’s the part of me that says he’s due for a loss. THIS SERIES IS DRIVING ME NUTS!

What do you see going down, goalie wise, in Game 7?

These two were the best goalies of the playoffs before this series, but have both given up 6+ goals in games too

JF: Oh, don’t be the college-football guy again… I’ve dealt with that stuff from the Lightning fanbase, or more like Tampa Bay fan base, period.  They liked winning under Tony Dungy in the NFL with the Buccaneers in the late 1990’s/early 00’s but hated his defense-first, close-game philosophy. They wanted Steve Spurrier style run-up-the-score stuff (against Division I-AA clubs, usually). Yeah, running up the score is nice to see, but the heart attack, edge-of-your-seat stuff is what’s to be expected in the playoffs. We’ve been spoiled to get the score-fests.

Bishop is under the microscope at the moment because of game 6 and the pressure has turned up a notch for him… At the same time, where we are right now with the playoffs, nothing of what’s been experienced before really means jack right now. Yeah, Henrik’s been in these pressure positions before, he survived being on the brink Tuesday. But that’s looking back. It’s not moving forward.

What I’m expecting in Game 7 is game 1/game 5.  What I’m not even going to try to guess is who comes out with the win on this. I want my Lightning, it could be your Rangers. Tyler Johnson hasn’t scored in how-many games? He’s overdue to light that lamp just as much as Hank is due for another loss.

SM: I think in this case, more  Lundqvist than Bishop, it’s time for Hank to get his crown. Both teams were known for their scoring this year. (TBL first in total goals, Rangers third.)

I agree, there has been no momentum in this series. I’ve never seen a series like this. What really concerns me is Game 7 ending on a fluke goal or something cheap. These two teams have played so hard that, we the fans, deserve to see a true winner one way or the other.

Funny you mention Johnson, as some reports are saying that a flu is running through the TB locker room. What have you heard about this on your end? These sicknesses are no joke, this is the same Ranger team that lost a ton of manpower because of mumps. 

Remember when the Rangers lost a ton of man games because of the mumps from this idiot?

JF: Hank and the Crown… Eh, be careful on that one.  You do have the seniority on the rosters (and I’ve already seen a Lightning team deemed “too young” win the Cup. This is Bishop’s first playoffs, period (which adds to my agitation at some media people thinking his career is on the line here or something). It’s going to go either way by more than the netminders.

The players also deserve a clean close to this one. 

What I heard on this end was the same – something’s gong around and actually the Rangers supposedly had it too. @TGFireandIce reported it’s in both locker rooms though the Rangers claimed everyone is fine. Brayden Coburn dropped out of game 5 because of this thing, Ondrej Palat and Johnson both missed practice because of it (supposedly).  Hey, at least it’s not the mumps, right? It’s going to really suck if that thing ruins game 7 (missing players, lost ice time by starters/regulars). 

SM: Yea, at this point, you just want to see a clean game, with no BS.

We’ve talked about how the goalies could be erratic. How about the offenses?

One game, Derick Brassard has a hat trick, Rick Nash is scoring goals and PP looks amazing. The next, the Rangers get shut-out. On the flipside, the Bolts will struggle to score, but then will put up a touchdown in the next game.

One thing the Rangers and Rangers fans certainly overlooked was Tampa’s defense. They’ve done a great job, especially in Game 5.

In our preview, we walked about the big MSL/Callahan trade. However, I’m not surprised that either one is essentially a non-factor, with each man only having one goal. I do find it funny how TBL fans still boo MSL every time he touches the puck, where Calllahan always gets a polite applause at MSG.

Predicting this Game 7 is useless. The way these games are going, someone could win 1-0, just as fast as they can win 7-0.  There is no point using cliches or asking you what does TB need to do. We know what the Rangers have to do. We know what TB has to do. We will find out who can execute better when it matters the most. As a Rangers fan, you have to like your odds, but it feels like if anyone can snap their Game 7 win  streak, it’s these Bolts.

Seems so long ago since the trade.

  JF: Cally does get some boos at MSG and I’ve seen a good deal of hate / dislike pointed at him in talk leading up to the serie (from fans).  “Greedy” is the word always thrown around. Greed. Greed. Greed. In St. Louis’ case it was abandoning the club, leaving it cold.  Fans took it very personal (I’m one of them) because he had been the dynamo that made the Lightning go for so long. That goal Marty scored? It was his first against Tampa Bay since the deal and I think the first ever against TB (that meaning I’m including his Calgary Flames time).  

Cally is playing post-appendectomy. Him playing at all comes off amazing, how much pain is he playing with and through? To score on top of that seems huge. But largely, as you said, non-factor. 3rd line minutes, limited shots. 

As for what the Lightning need to do, it’s what happened in game 5 and game 6 — demoralize the opponent by getting the key goal at the key time. That’s only part of it. They need to limit odd-man rushes (which has become a bad habit in these latter games, that’s a fault on defense and the forwards too). But it really goes back to the offense and how TB shoots / from where.  Hank is covering his crease fine and dandy when the Lightning are up close.  It’s when they’re shooting from a few feet out that they’re getting them by him.  

That goes back to the crease, that goes back to the goalies. I think we can both conclude some consistency would help on each end too, huh?

SM: I will never argue Callahan’s toughness. The guy has an organ ripped out of him, and he’s back out there 3 days later.

Speaking of returns, the word here in NY is that Mats Zuccarello is close. His replacement on the roster, James Sheppard, hasn’t played bad or anything, but Zucc can be the heart of this team at times. He brings a different kind of energy, passion and fire that no one else really matches, outside of Chris Kreider.

That was what was so amazing about the Game 6 win. I thought Tampa dominated the puck & time of possession for 40 minutes. Then the Rangers just exploded for goals. I feel like the Rangers only played their game in Game 1, the 2-1 defensive battle. The game they were used to playing in the Washington series. Sometimes I wonder if that Caps series hurt the Rangers a bit, because they were used to running through mud with those guys, and here comes Tampa flying around like Olympic skaters.

It’s too late for consistency in this series now! That is what I find funny about social media or other hockey blogs. Everyone has the answers and knows what will happen. How can anyone predict anything with the way these two teams are playing?

I don’t mean to harp on your loss, but Game 6 was the most recent game. Tampa already won one Game 7 in these playoffs, against Detroit. You’re my eyes with the Lightning. How did TBL come back to win that series? How do you expect TBL to rebound?  Is Bishop’s confidence hurting a bit after being pulled, or was his pulling a good idea, just to give him some rest for the game 7 and see the Rangers from a different angle on the bench?

While on Game 6, what was the point of leaving the back-up goalie out there when losing by three and on the powerplay? Are any TBL fans wondering why Cooper wouldn’t leave it 6 vs 4 for the full PP, especially with the Rangers struggling on the PK? Additionally, the Rangers didn’t pull Lundqvist with the lead, to give him rest either. Does Bishop have any edge at all going into game 7?

It was announced today that Zucc will not be available for Game 7

JF: Here’s a question in regards to Zuc’s potential return: even if he’s “close”, playoffs usually mean guys try to force their way back in even if they’re not 100% (or are well below it). If Mats Zuccarello is game capable, does it concern you at all that he could be a liability on ice (playing while still recovering)? I mean, it’s a quirk in hockey with guys coming back and playing while ailing, happens all the time especially when the stakes are high.

The Lightning did dominate the first 40 minutes; it’s why I roll my eyes seeing fans talking about the team “not showing up” to play. Oh, they played all right, and the Rangers stood their ground despite the onslaught. It was like game 5 in a way but once we lit the lamp in the 2nd period, instead of collapsing entirely, the Rangers went into a shell but held the line. That’s why it wasn’t 3-0 or 4-0 or 5-1 as a final.

The only predictable thing for game 7 is that after it’s over, someone will have some time opened up on their schedule to hit the golf course while the other will have a potential date with immortality and their names on the Stanley Cup.

If you look at the Bolts results against Detroit, you’ll notice a trend that resembles what has happened in the ECFs: inconsistency. Tight game loss, lop-sided win, shutout loss, tight win, shut out loss, tight win, shut out loss, lop-sided win, tight SO win. 5 goals in a game isn’t the same lop-sided as what we’ve seen here. They’ve rebounded though, they haven’t been lost confidence., and they’ve done it all playoffs long. You cited Detroit, Bishop got pulled in game 4 of the Atlantic Division finals (game quirk: flip-side of back-to-back games), Tampa Bay lost two straight, they didn’t shut down. I don’t expect Bish to be shaken at all (but I’ve never understood the ego-side of goalies). Keeping him in wouldn’t rally the troops; it was a mop-up duty situation.

Let’s go back to an issue we’ve already touched on with the Lightning roster: illness. We don’t know who was showing signs of it, who was hit by it. As far as we know that was part of why Cooper waved the white flag and brought in Andrei Vasilevskiy (Side note: remember that name; a top prospect, KHL star, 1st round draft pick in 2012) and didn’t go 6v4 on the power play. As for an edge or not for Bishop, I wouldn’t think so at all: two days between games are going to pretty much wipe away any extra rest Bishop had by not playing as much as Hank in the game. 

SM: Well the Zucc factor is a non-factor. It’s been announced he’s not playing now. I have no problem with Sheppard, but the Rangers do miss Zucc. 

(http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/hockey/rangers/rangers-insider-zuccarello-close-return-article-1.2239451 is where you can read the official report about Zuccarello.)

It really will suck for the Rangers or Lightning, as well as the Ducks or Hawks by late Saturday evening. All four teams have made a hell of a run. That’s the playoffs and why the Cup is the hardest thing to win in sports.

I understand pulling Bishop. Just surprised that the Rangers allowed Lundqvist in there when the game was decided, especially with the Bolts pulling “Kreider’s” by skating into him.

We’ve talked a ton about the goalies thus far.  Let’s switch gears a bit. As a Rangers fan, I know all the stats and how Game 7 should be a slam dunk win for the Rangers. We know Hank is 6-0 in Game 7’s, 15-3 in elimination games, yadda yadda yadda. When you talk to non-Ranger fans, they are more confident than me that the Rangers will win. I am stressed out beyond belief and nervous. I really feel the Bolts have a better chance in the Game 7 to win. I just feel they’ve been a bit better all series and I can’t see Bishop having another bad game. Then again, I can’t see the Rangers going 1-3 at home in this series either. Regardless, I’m nervous.

How are you feeling right now? How good are you feeling about your chances? It’s so tough for either of us, or anyone for that matter, to say, “Well this guy will get hot, this guy will be cold, this will work, this won’t work.” Home ice means nothing either, because most of the hardcore Ranger fans are priced out of this game, so expect a ton of suits and celebrities taking seats from fans who watch this team year-long. At least you don’t have to worry about Donald Trump and some random loser Knick taking a seat away from a fan. MSG is the easiest place for a visitor to win in, which gets me so rattled.

So, let’s hear it, can I get your state of emotion right now?
JF: Certain players bring a certain game. So Mats being out, I totally understand how things are being missed that he brings. That was Marty to use in his prime.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous. This is an all-or-nothing game and it’s been a great run up to this moment and I’d hate to see it end. Yet, at the same time, I’m not dwelling on players, performances, what we have to do better, what we need to avoid, how puck possession, Corsi, Fenwick, TOI, PP and PK efficiency have to be blah-blah-blah. I wrote about it earlier ( http://www.rawcharge.com/2015/5/28/8681793/2015-nhl-playoffs-ECF-WCF-Game-7s) and while I take a wide swing at the Rangers (the mystique thing) it’s relevant here for all parties: Nothing that happened matters, nothing about the series before, or the playoffs before, or the season that was. There’s game 7 and nothing else. I don’t hold fear because of Hank’s performance in game 7’s. I’m not thinking about the Rangers in these situations. The past is moot. There’s Friday night at the Garden and nothing else. It applies to the Rangers, the Ducks and Blackhawks at Honda Center on Saturday too. There’s one game for all four teams, and that’s where the fans should be focusing. One game. It doesn’t rid you of nervous necessarily (or rid those of smug arrogance of such) but it just reminds you that the microscope stuff is not something to let your worries grow around; the microscope and over-analysis is useless.

As for chances, I am not worried there. I’ve been following Jon Cooper as a head coach since he came into the organization in 2010-11. First year he took the AHL club to the playoffs, second year he grabbed the Calder Trophy and set a new AHL record for most consecutive wins, 2012-13 was split in the AHL and NHL but the progression has started immediately. In that regard I’ve got confidence he can milk the squad to get the W. You’ve seen our guys, you know what we’re capable of just like I’ve seen what the Rangers can do. 

Vigneault has been gold ever since arriving to NY last season

SM: I agree with you, when you say whatever happened in the past doesn’t affect this Game 7. A fluke puck can decide who makes the Stanley Cup Finals, come Friday.

As I re-read our conversation back, I think we’ve covered it all. What more is there left to be said. I don’t know what to expect or what teams will show up. You don’t either. We’ve seen it all this series. Both of us have every reason to be confident, and every reason to think we will be miserable around 11:30 PM Friday night.

I want to say I have enjoyed our conversations and if my boys don’t pull it out, I will be rooting for your team to win it all. How can I hate on the ex-Rangers, especially Ryan Callahan? I would also like to think if TBL somehow does go all the way, Tyler Johnson may take some of the headline attention from Crosby & Ovechkin, as the beast from the east & perhaps some buzz away from McDavid’s entry to the league.

That being said, I hope your season ends tomorrow! I harbor you or your team no ill-will, but this is a Cup or Bust year for my Rangers. Lundqvist has been denied long enough. AV has been King Midas since joining this team. The Rangers have been the best team in hockey all year, even with all the inconsistency. They have found ways to win games all year, when it mattered the most. They just need to do it one more time, and get a chance to redeem themselves and change the ending of last year. I believe the Rangers can do it, just as much as you believe in your boys.

Win or lose, I would like to once again thank you for your friendship and time out to do these blogs with me. Is there anything you would like to say in closing?

JF: I’ve had fun with these conversations. My closing remarks are basically Go Bolts!  Well, that and Steven Stamkos is due (before Tyler Johnson) to finally get some league limelight instead of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin… But Johnson’s the wizard and Stamkos is the force.  I digress.  Though we’ll have to certainly do this again in the off-season sometime or next season at latest.

SM: Thanks again, and LET’S GO RANGERS!

You can find John Fontana at his website at RAWCHARGE.com and follow him on twitter @Johnny_fonts

Sean McCaffrey


@NYCTHEMIC on the twitter

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