For the first time since 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to the Stanley Cup Final.
They picked up a 2-0 victory Friday night over the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star felt that the scoreline doesn’t show just how good Tampa Bay was on the night:
ESPN’s Steve Levy added that the cream always rises to the top in a Game 7 atmosphere:
The Lightning controlled just about every facet of the game. They were the aggressors throughout, and goaltender Ben Bishop was rarely tested. He found himself under the most pressure when the game was essentially out of reach for the Rangers and they had pulled their goalie.
Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves in a losing effort.
Lundqvist is a good goaltender in his own right, but he finds a different level during Game 7s. He had won his last six entering Friday, building the kind of unbeatable aura reserved for a select few. According to NHL Network’s Mike Kelly, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy are the only goaltenders in league history with as many Game 7 victories.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was decidedly unmoved by Lundqvist’s Game 7 history, per ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun:
For two periods, Lundqvist lived up to the hype as he continuously denied the Lightning in front of goal. Tampa peppered him with 19 shots, and he stonewalled them all 19 times. His performance covered up for a Rangers power-play unit that disappeared—not for the first time in the series.
Lundqvist’s saves on Jason Garrison and Tyler Johnson in the second period were among his more notable.
NHL Network’s Andi Petrillo noted that Lundqvist had Johnson measured the whole way for that incredible stop:
Caitlin Kelly of the Sporting Scene had a rather unique way to describe the 33-year-old netminder:
One reason the Rangers defense found itself under a ton of pressure was the health of Ryan McDonagh. The 25-year-old is the team’s best defenseman and a big reason why New York allowed just 2.28 goals a game during the regular season.
McDonagh missed Thursday’s practice while trying to recuperate and physically prepare himself for Game 7, per Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.
“Everybody’s beat up, so I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can,” said McDonagh.
He spent just 17:33 minutes on the ice—his regular-season average was 23:08—and didn’t show up until nearly 13 minutes into the game, per Arthur.
While McDonagh was on the ice, Bleacher Report’s Dave Lozo felt that he was clearly laboring and not his normal self:
Between McDonagh‘s injury, New York’s poor power-play record and a heavy reliance on Lundqvist, the Rangers were teetering on the brink heading into the third period. Alex Killorn provided the shove that sent them over the edge.
A little under two minutes into the period, Lundqvist got screened, which prevented him from getting a good look at Killorn‘s backhand shot. As a result, the puck somehow slipped between right through his pads and into the goal.
Sportsnet’s Tim Micallef thought he could hear a pin drop inside Madison Square Garden after the goal:
LeBrun highlighted how good Tampa Bay has been at protecting a lead during the postseason:
Ondrej Palat provided a critical insurance goal with 8:47 remaining in the game.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Lightning’s line of Palat, Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has accounted for just a little over half of the team’s playoff goals:
Two goals was more than enough to secure the win with the way the Rangers attack was performing. New York’s forward lines have been somewhat spotty throughout the postseason, and Friday was one of those days when nothing went right.
Rangers fans will have to wait another year for the franchise to bring home its fifth Stanley Cup. Losing at home in a Game 7 is an awful way to end what was an otherwise great season for New York, and the bad taste from this defeat will linger for some time.
On the other side, Lightning fans will hope Tampa Bay’s next trip to the Stanley Cup Final goes as well as its last—the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames in seven games in 2004.
Tampa Bay will get either the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks in the next round.
Bishop will be somewhat of a wild card in the Stanley Cup Final. The veteran goaltender was steady between the pipes Friday night, but he had some very shaky performances both against the Rangers and in earlier rounds.
The team’s title hopes won’t rest solely on the 28-year-old’s shoulders, but he’ll play a large role in whether or not Tampa Bay wraps up the 2014-15 season as NHL champion.