The Tampa Bay Lightning are talented, tough, and playoff-tested. As two-time defending champions, they have the rare understanding of what it takes to carry the Stanley Cup around the arena – twice in two years.
But Barclay Goodrow, the Rangers forward, is also talented, resilient and playoff-tested. He is also a two-time champion.
Goodrow played and assisted the Lightning in 2020 and 2021 win those cups. His experience in this winning endeavor is part of what led Rangers general manager Chris Drury to sign Goodrow as a free agent last summer. Goodrow was given six years Contract for $21.8 millionpartly to add an intangible but important ingredient to a winning team heading into the playoffs.
“That was definitely a big part of the deal,” Drury said at the Rangers training ground Tuesday, explaining why he needed Goodrow, who was originally signed by 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 what he could do not just in the playoffs but in the regular season to help create, build and maintain culture. He did everything possible for this.”
Starting Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Goodrow will bring that experience and talent back to his old team when the Rangers open the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning.
The 29-year-old Goodrow is an example to young players and perhaps some veterans of what it takes to win at the highest level. But he was equally drawn to the Rangers for what they built.
“I saw the potential and the trajectory that this team is on,” Goodrow said. “They are well-prepared with so many talented players that you see them showing up in these playoffs and becoming great players. I saw that potential and it seemed perfect to me.”
The Lightning have a dressing room full of players like Goodrow, and one of them is defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a former Rangers loyalist and last captain of the Blue Shirts.
At any Rangers game, fans typically wear McDonagh’s No. 27 bright blue, white and red with a “C” on the chest. (The team has not named a captain since the McDonagh trade in 2018). In Tampa, Florida, many Lightning fans still have blue and white Goodrow T-shirts.
They were never traded for each other, but they traded places, each bringing a measure of character-based leadership so prized in the NHL locker rooms and on the ice.
Chris Kreider, a veteran striker and the Rangers’ leading scorer this season, suggested that McDonagh’s example helped lay the foundation on which the current team is built. McDonagh helped train Kreider, and Kreider helped train many of the young players on the current roster, all of whom have been instrumental in taking the Rangers further than expected this year.
“Mack is one of the best people I’ve ever played with,” Kreider said. “I learned so much from him about how to be a professional, how to behave on and off the ice. He did something for our group when he was here. This is a very, very long list. He was our example of what it means to be a ranger and he was instrumental in their success.”
A rugged left-handed guard, 32-year-old McDonagh played for the Rangers from 2010 until traded for Lightning in 2018 as part of a comprehensive plan to upgrade the team with younger players. The trade also helped the Lightning become the team they are.
“It was the first step towards becoming the team we are today,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “He is the leader on this team. When you think about that last playoff series, he was one of our best, if not our best player.”
McDonagh was also an important part of the last Rangers team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014, and played on a Rangers roster that was destroyed by Lightning in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, ending the Rangers’ hopes of returning to the Finals and winning the Cup.
Kreider called it “poetic” that the teams would meet in the same round this year as well. This time he won’t have McDonagh to lean on, but Tampa Bay won’t have Goodrow to stay in Tampa if the Lightning had more room in the salary cap.
“We knew we were going to lose some of the players who contributed to two Stanley Cups and were highly regarded by me, the coaches, other players and our fans,” said Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois. “We know it will be a loss. But we also went into the off-season with the idea of trying to win some more.”
The Goodrow-McDonagh convergence is one of several intriguing plots in the series, including a confrontation between two coaches with deep respect for each other. Rangers’ Gerard Gallant was Lightning’s John Cooper’s assistant for Canada at the 2017 World Cup. The series also features a match between two of the best goaltenders in the NHL: Andrey Vasilevsky of the Lightning and a player from the Rangers. Igor Shesterkin.
There is also the issue of rest vs. rhythm. The Rangers played consistently one game every other day for two weeks during a two tough seven-game streak. This line of conga games started on May 3rd.
On the other hand, the Lightning may need to get rid of the rust. Tampa Bay defeated the Florida Panthers in the second round, and the players have not competed since May 23. When they hit the ice at the Garden on Wednesday, they will have eight days between games.
But for a team that has played more games in the last three seasons than any other team (and the same is true for Goodrow), a rest was welcome.
“If there was any year that we could use this break, it was the year,” said Cooper. “We are grateful that we received this. We deserve it. But now we have to do something about it. This is our next step.”