Lightning ‘answer the challenge’ in Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have now dispatched the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers in these Stanley Cup playoffs. So long, Original Six.

They are now off to the Stanley Cup Final, after beating the Rangers 2-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Going into Madison Square Garden, against a team that had not lost a Game 7 in six previous opportunities, or lost a Game 7 on home ice in its history, was apparently not a problem for the Lightning.

“We’ve just kind of got that group,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “I don’t know if we’re so young and dumb and don’t know any better … it’s hard to explain.

“But they just answer the challenge. Every time we as a staff go in and challenge them, they respond.”

After battling through two scoreless periods, the Lightning finally solved Henrik Lundqvist with a pair of third-period goals and Tampa Bay’s goalie Ben Bishop, who had been hot and cold in this series, was perfect in a 22-save shutout performance.

“Well, we didn’t give them much,” said Bishop.

“Last game they had some open looks, some odd-man rushes and a couple of seeing-eye pucks. And tonight the guys were blocking shots, giving up their bodies, sacrificing, and it makes a big difference when the guys are out there doing that, and it makes it really easy on me.”

Bolts strike Stanley Cup Final berth thanks to Game 7 win over Rangers

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There is a new Eastern Conference champion.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, which will mark their first appearance in the championship series since 2004, when they won it all.

WATCH: Full replay of Game 7

Playing a team that had history on its side, the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers in Game 7 by a final score of 2-0. Alex Killorn finally broke a scoreless deadlock less than two minutes into the third period. Ondrej Palat followed that up with the kill shot, beating Henrik Lundqvist on the glove side to give Tampa a two-goal lead.

It was an insurmountable lead.

The Rangers, Stanley Cup finalists a year ago, began the day having been victorious in their last six Game 7 appearances dating back to 2012. And for the first time in their history, the Rangers lost a Game 7 on home ice.

Ben Bishop had allowed five goals in three of his last four starts prior to Friday. After getting pulled in Game 6, he responded with a 22-save shutout in Game 7, the most important start of his career.

Bolts shrug off talk of Madison Square Garden ‘mystique’

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It’s not just about playing a huge game at “the world’s most famous arena.”

Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers have put up gaudy stats in elimination games and Game 7 situations at Madison Square Garden, as you’ve likely seen or heard. Most obviously, they’re 7-0 in Game 7’s at MSG.

On paper, it seems like an intimidating challenge: beat the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners (employing hockey’s biggest goaltending star) in New York City for a chance to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. It’s the sort of scenario that practically breeds “Nervous Nellies.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t taking the bait, though. At least not publicly.

Former Ranger Brian Boyle had some amusing comments about giving in to the MSG “mystique.”

“Do you think I buy it? What am I doing here if I buy it? Why would I fly up from Florida if I bought it?,” Boyle said. “They’ve obviously had success in Game 7. It’s a new year. Obviously, we’re expecting their best and they’ve been good. It’s a fun place to play.”

“They’re going to have the crowd support. We’re going to try to take it away from them as quick as we can, and hopefully it’s going to be a really fun, memorable game.”

Victor Hedman’s mindset is simple enough: he said “we’re prepared for this.”

Alex Killorn provided the sort of clever take you’d kind of expect from an Ivy League grad.

All veteran-type responses, even if most of the Lightning’s roster has never been in this spot before. Steven Stamkos was in a Game 7, and it stung for reasons that went beyond the puck he took to the face.

(Remember that?)

“Yeah, well, I remember not winning that one, so that’s tough. Don’t really remember taking the puck to the face as much as you remember losing,” Stamkos said. “That was a tough one. That was my first experience in the playoffs, and it was a great run. We’re right back in the same position right now, so I’m excited about the opportunity of having a little different result this time around. ”

source: AP
Via AP

Jon Cooper made a good point: yes, the Rangers are dominant in these situations, but none of those Game 7 wins came against the Lightning.

“We haven’t been a part of that history, so it doesn’t affect us,” Cooper said, via the Canadian Press. “I guess you look back and it’s an impressive feat to see what they’ve done. But they haven’t done it against our group and our team, and we’ve got a pretty young, confident group.”

Winning and not taking a puck to the mush would be quite the improvement for Stamkos & Co. (Hey, you need to set goals, right?)

(Video) PHT Extra: Health, not history, should be Lightning’s major concern

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Everyone knows how good Henrik Lundqvist has been in Game 7s for the Rangers, but the Lightning should probably be more concerned about the flu bug that’s been running through their team.

Meanwhile, the Ducks will get to play Game 7 at home, but how much confidence should they have in Frederik Andersen against the Blackhawks?

We preview the deciding games of the conference finals:

Lundqvist on Game 7: ‘You’re definitely nervous, but it comes down to teamwork’

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How has Henrik Lundqvist been so good in Game 7?

That’s what reporters wanted to know today in New York, where Friday night the Rangers and Lightning will play the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Final.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Lundqvist has won six straight Game 7s. He’s only lost one of them in his career, back in 2009 against Washington. Amazingly, the two goals he surrendered in that 2-1 defeat are the most he’s ever surrendered in a Game 7. Since then, he’s allowed one, one, zero, one, one, and one.

In other words, seven Game 7s. Seven goals allowed. Total.

Yet the 33-year-old doesn’t have any special trick that he uses to rise to the occasion.

“I just try to go out and do my job,” he said. “You’re definitely nervous, but it comes down to teamwork. I feel comfortable when we’re in the right place, when we’re doing good things out there. I feel like it’s easier for me to focus on my game, and that’s a big part of winning these games too. You focus on the team concept and the things that brought you to this moment.”

He added, “You need to stay in the moment really. Just control the things you can control. I keep saying that every time. Tiring of hearing it. But I think that’s the most important thing.”

Lundqvist has already won a Game 7 in these playoffs, stopping 35 of 36 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Capitals in the second round.

But despite all the history on his side, he knows the Lightning won’t go down easily. Tampa Bay has already won two games at MSG in the series.

“They’ve been playing really well in our building,” he said. “You have to respect that. They’re a really good team, so we have to play our best.”