5 things to ponder ahead of Rangers-Lightning Game 7
Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brenden Morrow is put into a headlock by New York Rangers defenceman Kevin Klein in the third period in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final of the 2015 NHL playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 22, 2015. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
With the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers set for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, we ponder five questions heading into the game.
1. Can Ben Bishop rebound from a sub-par performance in Game 6 and out-duel Henrik Lundqvist?
You would think it’s a lot to ask of the Tampa goaltender. Lundqvist doesn’t just thrive in Game 7s. The man consumes them, as his six-game winning streak in Game 7 is an NHL record, ditto for his 0.97 goals-against average. Lundqvist, who held the fort for the Rangers in Game 6 before they opened the floodgates in the third period, has allowed a goal or less in each of those games. That’s ridiculous. Lundqvist will be looking to become the first goalie in NHL history to win a Game 7 seven times while Bishop will attempt to put a bad outing in Game 6 behind him. Bishop had a shutout in Game 7 in the opening round against Detroit, but this is on a whole different level.
2. Can the Lightning’s Triplets Line get back on track?
The trio of Tyler Johnson between Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat has gone quiet in the past three games, producing a combined six points (two goals and four assists). Of that total, four points (two goals by Kucherov with assists by Johnson) came in garbage time in Game 6 after the Rangers had opened a 5-1 lead and began to get a little sloppy in the defensive zone. Is Johnson, who leads the playoffs in scoring with 20 points in 19 games, frustrated? “I think he has played really good hockey through this series, so I’m not sure he’s that frustrated, maybe a little bit (in Game 6),” Rangers centre Derek Stepan said. “I don’t expect anything but Tampa’s top guys’ best game of the year.”
3. Will it matter much that the Lightning has been successful in MSG this season?
Through the playoffs, several Tampa players have said they don’t believe that momentum carries from game to game. Now, they’re hoping they have been wrong all along. After a 2-1 loss in Game 1 in the Garden, the Lightning have won the past two games there by a combined score of 8-2. This after they recorded two lopsided triumphs during the regular season. “We know we can beat them in New York, and that is going to be our mindset going in,” Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman said. “It’s a hostile environment, a loud building and a tough one to play in. It’s still the same game, the same measurements of any other rink. We really like the way we have played in New York.”
4. How much will experience, or lack thereof, be a factor?
No less than 13 players in Rangers sweaters have played in a Game 7 at least four times in the NHL; just six Lightning players have skated in a winner-take-all game at least four times. And three of them — Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman — did it with the Rangers. The experience has been a factor for the Rangers, as they have won all seven Game 7s at Madison Square Garden dating to 1992. “I guess that means they’re due to lose one, right?” Tampa forward Alex Killorn said. “As we’ve seen when their backs are against the wall, they’ve played well. But we’ve also shown in the short history that our team has been together, we’ve been able to bounce back.”
5. Will this mark the final NHL game for Martin St. Louis or Brenden Morrow?
Both long-time veterans are heading for unrestricted free agency in the off-season, and it will be intriguing to see what, if any, interest each garners on the open market. St. Louis will be 40 in June and has not been a major factor for the Rangers this post-season, scoring one goal in 18 games. Morrow, 36, twice has been a healthy scratch in the playoffs and has not registered a point in 17 games, this after he had just eight points in 70 games in the regular season. Morrow won gold with Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics but never has won the Stanley Cup; St. Louis averaged slightly more than a point a game in 2004 to help the Lightning win the Cup.