Tampa Bay Lightning shut out Rangers to take Game 7

  • Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 New York Rangers
  • Lightning win series 4-3

The Tampa Bay Lightning top the New York Rangers en route to Stanley Cup Final

The New York Rangers were supposed to be the team that you couldn’t beat in a series decider at Madison Square Garden. Unfazed by “supposed-to’s” the Tampa Bay Lightning rewrote history, handing the Rangers their first Game 7 loss at home in the past eight games. It’s the team that “didn’t know any better,” that’s now got a chance to play for the Stanley Cup final.

“We wanted this so bad,” Tampa Bay Lightning Captain Steve Stamkos said, smiling ear-to-ear in the visitor’s locker room after his team’s 2-0 win.

The series had no consistent flow, which drove it to the brink. Some games, it seemed like each team had a dozen guys on the ice and they were playing in a Manhattan-studio apartment. Others, it seemed like they were playing with soccer nets.

It was Tampa beating the Rangers at their playoff game, one where scoring and space were limited, the goaltending was good and the team was opportunistic.

According to Cooper, that’s exactly what you need to do to make the Stanley Cup Final. You need to adapt and play defense when called upon. Tampa’s defense, in the ultimate game, was stellar.

“They’re such a fun team to coach because they can win it in multiple ways,” Cooper said, after his team’s clinching victory. “You want to shoot it out? Our guys like to do it… you want to get to the Stanley Cup Final, you have to play [defense]. If you want to do that, it’s a choice… they made a choice.”

Cooper and crew were ultimately not deterred by the myriad statistics that pointed heavily in the New York Rangers’ favor. The Rangers were 15-3 in their last 18 elimination games, had made two historic comebacks and were trying for their eighth straight win at home in a deciding game seven.

“We just kind of got that grove,” said Cooper. “I don’t know if we’re just young and dumb and don’t know any better.”

The bright lights of Broadway and Madison Square Garden, had no bearing on the series. It was actually where Tampa thrived, shutting out the Rangers in the last two contests at home.

“You shine the light bring on our guys and they’ll just put on sunglasses and walk right through it,” Cooper said.

En route to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning have now arguably taken down the league’s top-two goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price.

Lundqvist, who was sharp despite giving up two goals in the final game, spoke to how tight of a contest it was, until Alex Killorn scored the game-winner – and ultimately the series winner – in the third period.

“I think we all felt that the next goal was going to be extremely important,” Lundqvist said. “Unfortunately, I never saw it until it was too late. There were just a lot of people in front of me. I felt sharp tonight. I felt like I was tracking pucks well, reading the play well, it was just one of those plays were they threw it in front and through screens.”

For the Lightning, Lundqvist’s absurd numbers in elimination games, struck no chord of fear. They were confident they could beat the Swede called “The King.”

“There was never a doubt in our guy’s eyes that we could score on these goalies,” Cooper said, of both Lundqvist and Price in the prior series.

It wasn’t just about beating Lundqvist though for the Lightning, who managed to keep the pucks out of the back of the net on the road, with games five and seven both being shutouts for Ben Bishop.

While most of their offense comes from a line called the triplets – consisting of a Russian, a Canadian and a Czech, none of whom are related – and Stamkos, it’s been the total package that’s given them the advantage in their big wins: depth scoring, goaltending and defense.

“We made sure the puck came 200 feet every time,” Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman said, after the win. “Our forecheck was tremendous, we were on the right side of the pucks. We just made it really hard for them to create stuff.”

The Lightning now await the winner of Saturday night’s Game 7 contest between the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Players in the Lightning locker room were draped in celebratory Eastern Conference champion shirts and donned baseball caps saying the same. They recognized, that really, they haven’t won anything quite yet.

“I’m more looking forward to seeing who we’re going to be playing,” winger Tyler Johnson said, after the game.

For the New York Rangers, the series is mired in disappointment. They lost in the Stanley Cup Final last season and finished this regular season with the best overall record. They were heavy favorites at times in the playoffs, but fell just short.

“[There are] a lot of emotions,” said winger Rick Nash after the game. “I’m pretty upset. In a career, you don’t get too many opportunities to play on a team like this and get that opportunity to win a championship.”

Patrick Kearns at Madison Square Garden

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