Check your pulse. Calm your nerves. Finally, it’s safe to take a deep breath.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a date in the Stanley Cup Final.
After a tight Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in which both the Lightning and New York Rangers displayed defensive prowess, Tampa Bay won 2-0 on Friday at Madison Square Garden behind third-period goals from center Alex Killorn and winger Ondrej Palat. The Lightning claim the best-of-seven series 4-3, and they’ll play either the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks when the Stanley Cup Final begins next Wednesday.
"They didn’t play with each other tonight, they played for each other," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said on the Sun Sports postgame show. "And it was so fun to watch. I can’t say enough about just the sacrifices everybody was making for each other. And you could just see it was a total team commitment. You have to have that."
How about this night? How about this season?
On Friday, the Lightning produced their best defensive effort since shutting out the Rangers in Game 5. The recovery was impressive after collapsing in the third period during Game 6, when they lost 7-3 at Amalie Arena behind five third-period goals from New York.
This night proved to be much different. Killorn and Palat came up with large goals, but Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was strong in making 22 saves. Overall, Tampa Bay’s defense suffocated New York’s attack, a result that left an opening to crack Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist finished with 23 stops, but he was denied a chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive year.
"If you have to win on the road, you have to win on the road," Bishop said on the Sun Sports postgame show. "We’ve been a pretty good road team all season. And the guys just played such a good job tonight, blocking shots, not giving up anything. And it makes it pretty easy on me."