Lightning top Rangers in Game 7, advance to Stanley Cup Final
The only history the Tampa Bay Lightning were interested in was what they would create.
Such as handing the New York Rangers their first Game 7 loss at Madison Square Garden, which they did Friday night with their second straight 2-0 road victory behind Ben Bishop’s 22 saves.
Such as heading to their second Stanley Cup final, where they will play Chicago or Anaheim, which will decide the Western Conference title Saturday night.
Such as going 9-0 when scoring first in this postseason, which they did when Alex Killorn slipped a backhander under Henrik Lundqvist early in the third period.
Bishop, pulled from a Game 6 loss after allowing five goals, did much of the rest, and Ondrej Palat iced it with 8:43 to go.
"I felt pretty confident in this building," said Bishop, who sure looked it after being so shaky Tuesday night. "We’ve done well against them all year. I was just looking forward to getting out there again."
The Lightning, who won the Cup in 2004 in a seventh game over Calgary, allowed only four goals in as many games at the Garden.
"For whatever reason that was probably the most calm Game 7 I’ve ever been a part of," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "And not just for me, but on the bench. Going into the third, we were just loose.
"We knew we were playing the game the right way, we knew were going to get one."
New York had the NHL’s best record this season and was 15-3 in its last 18 elimination games. The most recent defeat was in the fifth game of the Cup finals last year at Los Angeles. But Bishop made sure there would be another loss for the Rangers, extending his shutout string at the Garden to 145 minutes, 43 seconds.
"It’s painful," Lundqvist said. "Getting to this point is extremely tough. I’ve been (in the Eastern Conference finals) three times. I like the consistency, I like what we’re doing as a group. There are a lot of good teams out there … in the end, you need a good team but you also need a process."
Bishop’s teammates stormed off the bench to mob him after his 22nd and last save of the night. The crowd chanted "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" as both teams lined up to shake hands, and Lundqvist looked stunned as well as downhearted as he took part in the tradition. Lundqvist has won six Game 7s, tied for most by any goalie.
Killorn’s seventh goal of the postseason came 1:54 into the third on a backhander from the slot with traffic in front of Lundqvist, who didn’t appear to see the puck skitter in to the crease, then under him into the net.
Then it was left to Bishop to protect the slim margin. On one sequence with the lead still one goal, four Rangers were in front trying to locate a loose puck, but Bishop didn’t yield.
"The team has played so well in last two Game 7s and we haven’t given up much," Bishop said.
Palat finished it with his seventh of the playoffs, a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s glove off a nice feed from Tyler Johnson. Tampa is 9-0 scoring the first goal of these playoffs.
Not even pulling Lundqvist with 3:44 remaining helped the Rangers, who scored only four goals in as many games at home in the series.
The Lightning then collected the Prince of Wales Trophy for winning the East, and set their sights on the bigger hardware: the Stanley Cup.
The finals will begin Wednesday night.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the loss that captain Ryan McDonagh played with a broken foot. McDonagh sat out the first 12:41, but played a regular shift the rest of the way.
Neither team appeared particularly tense for the first two periods, and the goalies stood out when tested.
New York had two fruitless power plays in the second period, the only penalties of the game. Each goalie made some superb saves in that period, Bishop with his pad on a slap shot by Derick Brassard — he of the hat trick and two assists in Game 6 — and Lundqvist on Nikita Kucherov’s wrist shot, then a brilliant arm stop on Jason Garrison’s wrister.
That save prompted chants of "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" from the crowd, and again when he stuck out his right leg to thwart a wide-open Johnson in front, his best save all night. The Lightning were looking very comfortable in a road Game 7 at that point.
Then it was on to the third period, nervous time for everyone. And a prosperous time for the Lightning, who have beaten Detroit in seven games, Montreal in six and the Rangers in seven this spring.
"Like I said in the playoffs, we’re a growing team," said defenseman Anton Stralman, a Ranger last season. "We’re not at our best yet."
Notes: New York last won the title in 1994. … Because of McDonagh’s injury, the Rangers suited up seven defenseman, with Matt Hunwick making his series debut. … The Lightning went 5-1 at the Garden this season, counting two wins in the regular season. …The Lightning were 2-0 against the Ducks this season, 1-0-1 against the Blackhawks.