Igor Shesterkin and the New York Rangers or the Metropolitan Division-winning Carolina Hurricanes? Should the Lightning prefer an opponent either way when preparing to compete for a third straight Stanley Cup Final appearance?
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: But because the game is tonight, and not many people are going to be able to turn this around for a game seven preview or game seven preview proper, I think we should discuss who the Lightning would want to face. So if the Lightning had its choice, not that they'd really care-- I mean, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning, for god's sake. What do you think is a better match-up for them in terms of their advancement, Carolina or New York?
JULIAN MCKENZIE: I feel like they might want Carolina a little bit more. I think they have the savvy to kind of figure out Carolina's defensive structure. And once they do, facing Antti Raanta and beating Antti Raanta is a little less daunting than playing against Igor Shesterkin, who-- I mean, look, right now, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goaltender in the world, 1A or 1B, if you're looking at it that way, 1B might very well be Igor Shesterkin.
And it's going to be a much tougher challenge to go up against him compared to an Antti Raanta. And even if Freddy Anderson gets himself healthy enough to play in that Conference Final for Tampa, I think those Lightning players would rather face off against Carolina's mix of goalies than Shesterkin.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, I never would have said this a week ago. But I think you're bang-on. I think Carolina is the preferred match-up if you're Tampa Bay, because they can't do what the Islanders have done previously and force them to really change their game and overcome a defensive juggernaut, which I think the Rangers can be.
The Rangers can Park the bus. They can play in front of a goaltender like Igor Shesterkin, who's not going to let anything soft through, while Antti Raanta in that game six, I mean, you can't be given up goals like that. Just, you're not going to win against a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So I think Shesterkin alone, that great equalizer factor, is the difference here in terms of what Tampa would want to see. I get that Carolina would be hard to break down because they just play so well within those five-on-five minutes. But I think they're very similar to Tampa, but they don't have the winning pedigree. They don't have the goaltender. And I don't think they have the collection of top-end talents that can take advantage of their chances when they need to.
So if I'm looking at it like it's a fastball or a curveball, Carolina is the fastball. I think they can manage the fastball. But that curveball that the Rangers can throw at you that might buckle your knees, maybe that's more difficult, even though it's a slower pitch.
So I feel like, if I'm the Lightning, I'm hoping for Carolina. They beat them just recently, I think last year, to win the Conference Semifinal. The Rangers are not as proven as an entity. I mean, they're just on the come-up right now. But with Shesterkin, all bets are off. If you have someone that can match Vasilevskiy, you have a chance. And I don't think the Hurricanes have that. I do think the Rangers have that.