The Tampa Bay Lightning are talented, tough and playoff tested. As two-time defending champions, they possess a rare understanding of what it takes to carry the Stanley Cup around the ice – twice in two years.
But Rangers striker Barclay Goodrow is also talented, tough and playoff-proven. And he is also a two-time defending champion.
Goodrow played for the Lightning in 2020 and 2021 and helped them win those Cups. His experience in that winning venture is part of what prompted Rangers general manager Chris Drury to sign Goodrow as a free agent last summer. Goodrow was signed to a six-year, $21.8 million contract in part to add an intangible, but essential, winning ingredient to a team gearing up for a deep playoff run.
“For sure it was a big chunk,” Drury said Tuesday at the Rangers training center while explaining why he wanted Goodrow, who originally signed with the San Jose Sharks in 2014.
Drury added: “What he went through, what he went through in San Jose, on and off the ice, and what a character player he was, and the things he could do, not just in the playoffs playoffs but in the regular season to help create, build and sustain a culture, he did everything he could to do that.
Starting Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Goodrow will bring that experience and talent back to his former team as the Rangers open the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning.
Goodrow, 29, is an example for young players, and perhaps also for some veterans, of what it takes to win at the highest level. But he was also drawn to Rangers for what they were building.
“I saw the potential and the trajectory of this team,” Goodrow said. “They drafted well with so many talented players that you see in these playoffs come into their own and become great players. I saw this potential and it suited me perfectly.
The Lightning have a locker room full of players like Goodrow, and one of them is defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a former Rangers stalwart and last captain of the Blueshirts.
At any Rangers game, it’s common to see fans wearing McDonagh’s No.27 shirt in bright blue, white and red, with a ‘C’ on the chest. (The team hasn’t named a captain since trading McDonagh in 2018). In Tampa, Florida, many Lightning fans still own white and blue shirts bearing Goodrow’s name.
They were never traded for each other, but they did switch places, each bringing a measure of character-based leadership so prized in NHL locker rooms and on the ice.
Chris Kreider, a veteran striker and top scorer for Rangers this season, suggested McDonagh’s example helped lay the foundations on which the current team was built. McDonagh has helped mentor Kreider, and Kreider has helped mentor many young players on the current roster, all of whom have helped lead Rangers further than expected this year.
“Mac is one of the best humans I’ve ever played with,” Kreider said. “I learned so much from him about how to be a pro, how to behave on and off the ice. There are a number of things he did for our group when he was here. It’s a very, very long list. He was our example of what it meant to be a Ranger, and he was instrumental in them and all the success they had.
A tough, left-handed defenseman, McDonagh, 32, played for the Rangers from 2010 until he was traded to the Lightning in 2018 as part of an overall plan to revamp the team with younger players. The trade has also helped embed the Lightning into the team they are too.
“It was the first step to becoming the team we are today,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “He’s a leader on this team. When you think about that last playoff, he was one of our best, if not our best player.
McDonagh was also a big part of the last Rangers team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, in 2014, and played on the Rangers team that was eliminated by the Lightning in Game 7 of the Finals. of the 2015 Eastern Conference, dashing Rangers’ hopes of returning to the Finals and winning the Cup.
Kreider called it “poetic” that the teams will also meet in the same round this year. This time, he won’t have McDonagh to fall back on, but Tampa Bay won’t have Goodrow, who could have stayed in Tampa if the Lightning had more salary cap space.
“We knew we were going to lose players who contributed to two Stanley Cups and who were greatly appreciated by me, by coaches, by other players and by our fans,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. “We knew it was going to be a loss. But we also entered the offseason with the idea of trying to win more.
The Goodrow-McDonagh convergence is one of the series’ many intriguing subplots, including the confrontation of two coaches with deep respect for each other. Rangers’ Gerard Gallant was Lightning’s Jon Cooper’s backup for Canada at the 2017 World Championships. The series also features a clash of the NHL’s top two goaltenders: Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin.
There is also the question of rest versus rhythm. Rangers played at a steady pace of essentially one game every other day for two weeks, through two tough seven-game series. This line of conga games started on May 3.
The Lightning, on the other hand, may need to get rid of the rust. Tampa Bay swept the Florida Panthers in the second round and the players haven’t played a competitive game since May 23. When they take to the ice at the Garden on Wednesday, they will have had eight days between games.
But for a team that has played more games in the past three seasons than any other team (the same goes for Goodrow), a rest was welcome.
“If there was a year where we could have used that break, this was the year,” Cooper said. “We are grateful that we got it. We deserved it. But now we have to do something about it. This is our next step.