The Tampa Bay Lightning are talented, rugged and playoff tested. Because the two-time defending champions, they possess a rare understanding of what it takes to hold the Stanley Cup across the rink — twice in two years.
But Barclay Goodrow, the Rangers forward, can also be talented, rugged and playoff tested. And he’s a two-time defending champion, as well.
Goodrow played for the Lightning in 2020 and 2021 and helped them win those Cups. His experience in that winning enterprise is an element of what made Rangers General Manager Chris Drury sign Goodrow as a free agent last summer. Goodrow was given a six-year, $21.8-million contract, partially, so as to add an intangible, but essential, winning ingredient to a team preparing to make deep playoff runs.
“That, needless to say, was a giant piece of it,” Drury said on Tuesday on the Rangers’ practice facility while explaining why he wanted Goodrow, who was originally signed by the San Jose Sharks in 2014.
Drury added, “What he’s passed through, what he went through in San Jose, on and off the ice, and what a personality player he was, and the things he could do, not only within the playoffs but within the regular season to assist create, construct and keep a culture. He’s done all the things possible to do this.”
Starting on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Goodrow will turn that have and talent back on his old team because the Rangers open the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning.
Goodrow, 29, is an example to the younger players, and maybe some veterans, too, of what it takes to win at the very best level. But he was equally drawn to the Rangers for what they were constructing.
“I saw the potential and the trajectory this team has been on,” Goodrow said. “They drafted well with so many talented players that you just see in these playoffs coming into their very own and becoming great players. I saw that potential and it gave the impression of an ideal fit for myself.”
The Lightning have a locker room stuffed with players like Goodrow, and certainly one of them is defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a former Ranger stalwart and the Blueshirts’ last captain.
At any Rangers game, it is not uncommon to see fans wearing McDonagh’s No. 27 jersey in vivid blue, white and red, with a “C” on the chest. (The team has not named a captain since trading McDonagh in 2018). In Tampa, Fla., many Lightning fans still own white and blue shirts with Goodrow’s name on them.
They were never traded for each other, but they’ve flipped places, each bringing a measure of character-based leadership so prized in N.H.L. locker rooms, and on the ice.
Chris Kreider, a veteran forward and the Rangers’ leading goal-scorer this season, suggested that McDonagh’s example helped establish the inspiration on which the present team has been built. McDonagh helped tutor Kreider, and Kreider has helped tutor most of the younger players on the present roster, all of whom have been instrumental in carrying the Rangers farther than expected this yr.
“Mac is top-of-the-line humans I’ve ever played with,” Kreider said. “I learned a lot from him about the right way to be a professional, the right way to conduct yourself on and off the ice. There are various things he did for our group when he was here. It’s a really, very long list. He was our example of what it meant to be a Ranger, and he’s been instrumental for them and all of the success they’ve had.”
A troublesome, left-handed defenseman, McDonagh, 32, played for the Rangers from 2010 until he was traded to the Lightning in 2018 as a part of an overarching plan to revamp the team with younger players. The trade also helped construct the Lightning into the team it’s, too.
“That was the primary piece going forward in becoming the team we’re today,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “He’s a pacesetter on this team. When you consider that past playoff series, he was certainly one of our greatest, if not our greatest player.”
McDonagh was also a giant a part of the last Rangers team to go to the Stanley Cup finals, in 2014, and played on the Rangers squad that was eliminated by the Lightning in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference finals, quashing the Rangers’ hopes of going back to the finals and winning the Cup.
Kreider called it “poetic” that the teams will meet in the identical round this yr, too. This time, he is not going to have McDonagh to lean on, but Tampa Bay is not going to have Goodrow, who may need stayed in Tampa if the Lightning had more salary-cap space.
“We knew we were going to lose some players that contributed to 2 Stanley Cups and were greatly appreciated by me, by the coaches, the opposite players and by our fans,” Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois said. “We all know that was going to be a loss. But we also went into the off-season with the concept of attempting to win some more.”
The Goodrow-McDonagh convergence is certainly one of several intriguing subplots to the series, including the matchup of two coaches with deep respect for each other. The Rangers’ Gerard Gallant was an assistant to the Lightning’s Jon Cooper for Canada on the 2017 world championships. The series also contains a matchup of the 2 best goalies within the N.H.L.: the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin.
There may be also the problem of rest vs. rhythm. The Rangers have been playing to a gradual beat of mainly one game every other day for 2 weeks, through two tough, seven-game series. That conga line of games began May 3.
The Lightning, however, can have to shake off rust. Tampa Bay swept the Florida Panthers within the second round and the players haven’t been in a competitive game since May 23. Once they take the ice on the Garden on Wednesday, they may have had eight days between games.
But for a team that has played in additional games over the past three seasons than every other team (the identical is true for Goodrow), a rest was welcome.
“If there was any yr we could have used this break, this was the yr,” Cooper said. “We’re thankful we got it. We earned it. But now we’ve got to do something with it. That’s our next step.”