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The NHL Eastern Conference final begins tonight, as the quest to win Lord Stanley’s cup continues. The HabsWorld writers provide their predictions.

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lightning in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Rangers in 7 games
Naqeeb Shaikh predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Ken MacLeod predicts: Lightning in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 6 games

(Norm) I have to say I sort of like these plucky Rangers. They are a team I was not that confident would get out of the first round. Led by last season’s Norris winner Adam Fox on the blueline, and 2022 Vezina nominee goaltender Igor Shesterkin, the team has a very strong nucleus on the back end. Fox is currently leading all NHL defencemen in scoring with eighteen points. Veteran forwards Mika Zibanejad leads New York in team scoring with nineteen points, It seems that their former GM and current Canadiens Executive VP of Operations Jeff Gorton deserves a lot of credit for helping architect many key pieces of this squad.

The Lightning are obviously the two-time Stanley Cup winners, hopeful of making it back to the finals. In goal is Andrei Vasilevsky, who has played very well in the first two series. The goaltending edge goes slightly towards Tampa. Nikita Kucherov leads his squad with fifteen points. Despite missing Brayden Point to injury in the last series, and having a banged-up former Hab Mikhail Sergachev, this team’s depth is very impressive. Losing a key player or two never seems to derail this squad. Head coach Jon Cooper is one of the best coaches when it comes to adapting to the in-game and in-series situations. I cannot imagine the Rangers winning this round; the Lightning’s depth and veteran experience will give them enough to get into the Final.

(Allan) After watching my pick of the Oilers over the Avalanche allow “8 GOALS” in their opening match, you can be sure I’m not going to pick the Rangers over Tampa. Tampa has it all. Not only a well-balanced team with loads of experience but an international city with large insects and fame as the best strip bars in the cultural haven of Florida. What do the Rangers have besides coming from a city where if you make it there you can make it everywhere? I lived and studied in Manhattan for three years and I made sure to wear Raid Cologne when I drove past Tampa on my way to … oh, never mind I took a plane. Youth over experience, wishful thinking over facts (Facts are a concept that was used in early American times to deal with life – they have since been replaced by alternative facts like Laser beams from the Chosen people.)

(Naqeeb) Awesome goaltending matchup with Vasilevskiy vs. Shesterkin. A battle between experience versus youth.

Stamkos and Kucherov have to be better than the Rangers’ offensive stars. I think they will be and that, along with Vasilevskiy’s steady goaltending due to the extra rest from Round 2 Tampa earned, makes the difference in my opinion. But the Rangers will give the Bolts a run for their money.

(Ken) Tampa Bay will win over New York but this series might also take seven games to decide like the Rangers’ matchup last round. I’m picking the Lightning mostly because the two consecutive Stanley Cups tells me this team is battle-hardened and knows what it has to do to three-peat. Brayden Point’s injury was a tough blow, seeing as he is clearly the Lightning’s best forward but in the end, it all might come down to the goaltending. As good as Vezina finalist Igor Shesterkin has been for the Rangers, the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe as the MVP of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. So far, he hasn’t given any indication he’s ready to give it back.

(Kevin) As motivated as I am as a fan to see the Lightning eliminated (I mean, I actually wanted the Leafs to win a series for crying out loud!), neither the Hurricanes nor the Rangers were going to be the team to eliminate the Lightning in my opinion. And this is before considering that both the Canes and Rangers were playing in a second consecutive 7-game series. I am happy that the Rangers are the team that will face the Lightning. On paper, the Lightning have better scoring, a better blue line, and better goaltending.

Why am I happy then, you ask? I am happy because of the approach the Rangers are likely to take to try to beat the Lightning. Where the Hurricanes would have tried to play a skilled game against the Lightning, the Rangers are far more likely to play a physical game and try to grind out a few wins. This is much different than the Leafs and Panthers who weren’t very physical. It is likely to succeed in Game 1 after a long break for the Lightning. After that, maybe Shesterkin can steal some games? He absolutely has the potential to absolutely steal the series even if I did give the edge to Vasilevskiy on the comparison. All in all, the Lightning should handle the Rangers, but hopefully, the Rangers can soften up the Lightning some more before the finals.

(Brian) Through two rounds, the Rangers have struggled to score with consistency.  In those series – both of which went the distance – they faced a starting goalie once.  Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t just a starting goalie, he has the mantle of being the top goalie in the league.  If they couldn’t beat Louis Domingue and Antti Raanta with any consistency, how are they going to score with any sort of consistency against Tampa Bay?  Igor Shesterkin is good enough to steal a game or two on his own but that should be as close as New York gets.