NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers celebrates a second period goal by teammate Marc Staal #18 in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 16, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NHL on NBC: Rangers, Devils series heads to New Jersey

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After playing in back-to-back seven-game series, the New York Rangers insist they’re not tired. All the same, we imagine having two full days off before Game 3 on Saturday (1pm ET, NBC) was helpful for them.

The Rangers struggled to overcome the young and underrated Ottawa Senators and then they nearly fell to a reformed Washington Capitals’ squad. Now, after dropping Game 2, it looks like they’re in for yet another lengthy series, this time at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have developed a reputation for being a superb defensive team led by future Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur, but if anything the Rangers have the edge in both defense and goaltending in this series. Brodeur is 40 now and former greats Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski have all retired. However, New Jersey can’t be overlooked.

Whatever they’ve lost defensively since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2003, the Devils have made up for in firepower. Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise have done a great job leading New Jersey’s attack. Patrik Elias is another story, but if he manages to break out before this series is over, then he might prove to be a game changer.

The Rangers will attempt to contain them with their emphasis on shot-blocking and strong goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. That served them well the series opener, but they showed cracks in their armor in Game 2.

The X-factor going into Saturday’s contest is New York’s Marian Gaborik. On Wednesday, he was benched for the better part of the third period after a bad clearing attempt. He doesn’t have a point in this series, but he’s capable of bouncing back in Game 3.

Game 3 Notes:

— Rangers forward Chris Kreider has four playoff goals despite the fact that he’s never played in a regular season game at the NHL level. Only one other player in the history of the league has netted as many goals before their regular season debut.
— New Jersey has only managed to kill 72.2% of their penalties in the playoffs, which is by far the worst success rate out of the remaining teams. They conceded a power-play goal to the New York Rangers in each of this series’ first two contests.
— Rangers captain Ryan Callahan insists he didn’t injure his hand while blocking a shot in the first round. All the same, Callahan has just one goal and three points in his last 12 games.
— In 2011, the Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins led all teams with 377 blocked shots in 25 games. With 309 blocked shots in 16 contests, the New York Rangers are on pace to shatter that mark.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…