The Rangers’ comeback script never changes; and this time it could catapult them into the Stanley Cup Final for a second spring in a row.
Only one Friday night win will be necessary in this seven-act melodrama that’s thrilling enough to even give a robot the heebie-jeebies, if not the reeling Lightning skaters.
The Bolts already are suffering from rubberitis after being blockbustered, 7-3, Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, thanks in part to Derick Brassard‘s hat trick.
“I had been disappointed with myself in my last game,” said Brassard. “This time, we gave ourselves a chance to win and now we can’t wait to get back to our fans. We’ll go there and have fun.”
The only solace for the exhausted and bewildered Floridians is the unusual extra-day break until the series resumes Friday. The Bolts need the respite a lot more than the Blueshirts.
“We worked all season to get home ice for a Game 7,” added Brassard, “Every time we’re in an elimination game, we show up.”
Once again, this Seventh Avenue Passion Play has a familiar ring.
It features the New Yorkers just barely avoiding being pushed into the playoff abyss, and then climbing back with a vengeance to tie the tourney at three wins apiece.
By defeating the Lightning in Game 6, the Blueshirts once again have obtained a marvelous opportunity to slam-door this series on the Bolts in their Seventh Avenue arena. What a delightful thought!
“I expected our group to give ourselves a chance to win this game,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “And in the third period, we played our best hockey. We didn’t want to sit back and we didn’t.”
The decisive Game 7 for the Eastern Conference Championship starts at 8 PM Friday. If form holds for New York, Vigneault’s skaters eventually will face either Anaheim or Chicago for Lord Stanley’s mug.
The curtain on New York’s latest histrionics went up in the opening frame Tuesday night with a pair of goals. It was another two-period Henrik Lundqvist virtuoso performance from there. The King was as decisive as anyone.
Lightning forwards came in waves, but Hank was there — focused, acrobatic, determined and as motivated as ever.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” The King noted. “Tampa played good for two periods, but they got anxious in the third. We stayed cool in the third and had confidence.”
Tampa had emptied its tank by the third period and goals by J.T. Miller, James Sheppard, Brassard again and Rick Nash turned a close game into a rout. A real rout that featured the eventual yanking of goalie Ben Bishop.
“Bishop does not move well from his knees,” explained Steve Valiquette during the Rangers Postgame show on MSG.
And in case anyone is interested in knowing what makes the Blueshirts so good at clutch elimination games, Derek Stepan has the answer.
“We find a way to get it done,” Stepan explained, “and we don’t really panic. We play confident and stick to the keys that got us success throughout the year.”
Or, try Carl Hagelin’s analysis of Rangers rebound-ability:
“We’ve been through it before and we have great guys in the room. We knew what it would take. It was just a case of playing our best game.”
It helped that Brassard and Keith Yandle staked New York to a 2-0 first-period lead before Ryan Callahan’s power-play goal pulled one back for the Bolts and made it 2-1 after one stanza.
Although outshot, 16-7 in the opener, AV’s skaters had the better of the play. No surprise, Lundqvist made the stops of the period on Callahan and Steven Stamkos, respectively.
By contrast, Bishop betrayed signs of clumsiness, tightness and uncertainty at the other end. How much his confidence is shot will only be known come Friday night.
What this, of course, means is that there’s still another victory needed by Vigneault’s Army and, so far, no white flag has been hoisted in Tampa Bay.
We’ve learned time and again that there’s no such thing as home-ice advantage unless somehow The Garden ice could be tilted against the Bolts; and that ain’t likely to happen.
Wait a minute, it did happen in the third period of Game 6 in Tampa Bay!
“Now it’s time for Game 7,” concluded Lundqvist, “and we feel good. We show up for the big games.”
Well said. We’ll some learn what the Lightning have to say in rebuttal.
BEST, WORST, MOST UNUSUAL:
- WORST PRE-GAME LOSS: The Lightning revealed that Cedric Paquette was injured and would miss Game 6. Paquette had been one of Tampa Bay’s most reliable forwards.
- BEST EARLY CHANCE: Chris Kreider chipped the puck past a pinching Anton Stralman just seconds into the game. Jesper Fast had a clear lane to the net, but Victor Hedman took the puck off his stick.
- MOST UNUSUAL FIRST-PERIOD BREAK: With Tampa Bay surging just past the 10-minute mark, Lundqvist ended that attack by losing his mask. When that happens the referees must blow the play dead; which they did. The Bolts were stifled by a traveling mask.
- BEST SAVE: Lundqvist robs Stamkos with a left-pad kick.
- WORST PENALTY: Kreider took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty, setting up a Bolts power play and Callahan’ goal.
- BEST STAT FOR RANGERS: Despite being outshot 16-7, the Blueshirts exited with a 2-1 lead.
- WORST SETBACK FOR THE RANGERS: They went oh-for-two on the power play.
- BEST SAVE: The King foiled former teammate Brian Boyle by closing his five-hole in time.
- BEST COMEBACK FROM A CHECK: Dan Girardi was knocked awkwardly into the boards and appeared injured. Instead the Rangers defender returned and continued his strong play.
- BEST DODGED BULLET: Bishop lost track of a deflection, allowing the puck to skim behind him. His defenseman Jason Garrison pushed the puck into the goalie before a Ranger could put it in.
- BEST STAT FOR RANGERS: They continued to lead despite being significantly outshot.
- BEST START: Rangers forechecking almost produced an early goal, but a second offensive resulted in Bishop making an amazing save with his back before Miller potted the puck, making it 3-1.
- MOST UNUSUAL TURNABOUT: After dominating for two periods, the Lightning significantly fade through the first five minutes of the frame. Before you can say Que Pasa? (what happened?) it was 7-3 for the visitors. Game over.
- BEST PROSPECT LOOKING FORWARD: Another Game 7 at The World’s Most Famous Arena!