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(Just like) Starting over; Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers game 1 preview

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The first two rounds mean squat... well, mostly. And what is the status of that Ryan Callahan guy?

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Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
When:  1 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC (local) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt Banter, Doinow.com

We're back at 0 again; while we'll cite stats acquired since the playoffs have started, it doesn't amount to spit right now. Both clubs are oh-fer the series against each other. That time of crisis when Steven Stamkos hadn't scored or hadn't even shot? Never happened, too far in the past to be relevant in the moment (counterpoint: he hasn't taken a shot yet! They're all over-passing or something).

What does seem to have some teeth and worth going forward is the New York Rangers climbing out of the 3-1 hole to get to this point, same with the Lightning outlasting Detroit in the first round, or perhaps because of snapping back and shutting down the Canadiens after losing two-straight possible round-clinching games. It tells you both teams aren't going to go quietly, give in, or drop the ball and let the other club run over them.

That is, unless either club spent their collective resolve in the previous two rounds. Then what they accomplished up to this point (making the worthy drive to get to the Eastern Conference Finals) becomes nothing. "Close but no cigar" might be a good phrase to toss around in folklore of days gone by, but it's less than that. It was a failed attempt.

Failure isn't an option for the Lightning or Rangers at this point, you can't get this close to (but still so far from)  playing for the Stanley Cup to let the drive end with defeat. You can't take satisfaction getting this close and stopped directly by the opposition, or by the personal obstacles (bad habits, poor play, and loss of focus).

And pain is an unacceptable obstruction. It's part of why you have heard stories for years about players playing through ailments to try to contribute to the club.

Yeah, a nice elaborate way to lead up to Mister Ryan Callahan and his iffy/questionable/could be/might be/is he/it's the playoffs, try to stop him status for the Eastern Conference Finals. Doctors have told Callahan he can't do anything to damage where he was operated on. Everything at this point is pain tolerance, and head coach Jon Cooper's own words put writing on the wall for game 1 and Cally's availability. This is from Tuesday:

"Stranger things could happen," Cooper said after today's morning skate. "How long is the game from now? He's a pretty tough kid."

The cited article has a bit more on Cooper not taking Callahan's chance of playing out of the question for game 6 of the Atlantic Division Finals, hours after surgery. Now we advance to Friday and Coop's comments on Ryan:

"Our biggest thing is can he do further damage to himself, and the answer there is no,'' Cooper said. "So now it becomes a pain tolerance thing, and those things are painful. But he's a pretty tough kid, so I would suspect he'll come back probably quicker than most.''

It's not an elimination game; here Cooper was toying with the opposition and the media. The stakes are still high though as they're only three games away from that place.

While this preview was introduced with the fact stats are reset, or at least I think that you shouldn't let the past dictate the immediate future in the playoffs, it's worth noting that in the playoffs the Rangers have been pretty impressive in an area that Lightning fans may fault the Lightning should they not score: the penalty kill. The Rangers PK unit is shutting opponents down at a rate of 89.3% in the playoffs, a mite better than Tampa Bay's own kill-rate of 88.7%. Those numbers aren't locks to remain static. Neither is the fact Tampa Bay has an 18% power play conversion rate in comparison to the Rags 15.8%. If you're a visiting Rangers fan reading this, know it's the power play that's haunted the Lightning the most this season - so much offensive ability and the idea of converting on the power play seemed foreign. The Lightning was 3rd to last in the playoffs on the power play up until they ran into the Canadiens, who boosted the Lightning by way of a game 2 self-destruction.

What will the story be to start the series, the one secured in the game and not through the status of Ryan Callahan? I can't tell you. It's already felt like the where-is-Jonathan-Drouin storyline has been thrown aside in favor of what lies ahead with the Conference Final and being thisclose to a Stanley Cup Finals berth.

That's how it should go, because everything starts anew and there's a seven-game arc to write a saga that will go into the history books.

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