An Eastern Conference champion will be crowned Friday night when the New York Rangers host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning had an opportunity to clinch a Stanley Cup Final berth in Game 6 on Tuesday night, but the defending East champion Rangers used a five-goal third period for a 7-3 road win. The last Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals was 2011, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Lightning 1-0 at TD Garden.
The Western Conference finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks also requires a Game 7, which will be played Saturday. This is the first time since 2000 and just the second time in the post-1967 expansion era that both conference finals have gone to a Game 7.
Here’s a preview of the Lightning-Rangers Game 7.
Date, Time, TV Info: Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
Leading Scorers: Lightning — Tyler Johnson (12 goals, eight assists, 20 points); Rangers — Derick Brassard (nine goals, seven assists, 16 points)
Key Player For Rangers: Brassard was the best player on the ice in Game 6 with a team-leading five points (three goals, two assists), 10 shots on goal and a 53.6 win percentage on faceoffs. A similar performance Friday night likely would give the Rangers a Cup Final berth for the second consecutive season.
Key Player For Lightning: Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos has played very well in this series with four goals and three assists in the last five games. However, Stamkos was held scoreless with just two shots in Game 6, and his challenge won’t get any easier in Game 7 when the Rangers have the last change and can match up their Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi shutdown pairing against Tampa Bay’s top line.
Goaltending Matchup: Lundqvist has won six consecutive Game 7s, including one during these playoffs in Round 2 when he stopped 35 of 36 shots against the Washington Capitals. After dominating over the first two rounds, Lundqvist has struggled in this series with a .900 save percentage. He was great when he had to be in Game 6, though, stopping 36 of 39 shots.
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Lundqvist’s sparkling Game 7 history gives Lightning netminder Ben Bishop a very, very slim margin for error. Bishop has played below average in this series with a .889 save percentage and 19 goals against through six games. The Lightning need a much-improved Bishop or their season will end.
Prediction: The Rangers have won six consecutive Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, and that, combined with Lundqvist’s stellar elimination game record, makes it difficult to pick against the Blueshirts. New York wins 4-2.
Thumbnail photo via Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports Images