Home ice for Game 7 doesn’t seem to be advantageous
New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan celebrates after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final of the 2015 NHL playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 16, 2015. (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
Is playing on home ice really an advantage in the Eastern Conference final?
Doesn’t look like it.
Since claiming the series opener with a 2-1 victory, the Rangers have lost their last two games at Madison Square Garden by scores of 2-0 and 6-2.
That they’ve given their home crowd only four goals to celebrate in three games is bewildering, especially since they’ve scored 15 times while winning two of three at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.
“It should be the other way around, but we’re a pretty good road team,” said New York forward Derick Brassard. “We show up to play every time on the road. It seems like we don’t have anyone to impress. Maybe at home we’re trying to impress our fans or we’re trying to impress people.”
Another Rangers forward, Rick Nash, believes the Rangers have to play better defence at home, and from there the offence will take care of itself.
“It seems like we know when we’re (in Tampa) we’re going to get a big push from the other team, and we’re going to make sure we’re defensively sound,” said Nash. “I think sometimes at MSG, we’re just worried about getting offense, getting opportunities, getting chances and then we get exposed defensively.”
Coach Alain Vigneault has faith that the Rangers will play the right way against a “very strong opponent” in Game 7.
“It’s going to be our seventh game in a short amount of time against this team,” he said. “There are some plays that we know we need to make against that team to have success, and hopefully we’ll be able to execute them.”
Said alternate captain Derek Stepan: “The Garden has been so great the last few years in the playoffs, and Game 7s are so exciting to play on that ice, and the fans seem to just absolutely light that building up. It’s a really cool experience, and it makes for a great atmosphere.
“You play all year to get home ice advantage, and that’s what we’re able to do this year. Now we get ourselves in a Game 7 in front of our own fans.”
GREATEST GAME 7 TEAM EVER?
Defeating the Lightning Friday night not only would put the Rangers into the Stanley Cup final for the second spring in a row, but also it would make them the greatest Game 7 team of all-time.
The Blueshirts, who own a perfect 7-0 record in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, have won their last six Game 7s no matter where they’ve been played. That ties them with the Detroit Red Wings (from 1949 to 1964) and the Boston Bruins (from 1983 to 1994) for the longest such streak in NHL history.
The experience they’ve gained in those all-or-nothing showdowns has proved valuable, just as it has helped them to a 15-3 record in elimination games dating back to their opening-round series against the Ottawa Senators in 2012.
But it doesn’t guarantee them anything.
“Everything that’s happened before this point, it doesn’t really matter,” said New York centre Derek Stepan. “We’re looking at it as one game against a team that’s played really good hockey through the series, both teams have. And I think both teams feel like at times they haven’t played as well. So it’s been a back-and-forth series, but now it just comes down to one game.”
One game with a lot of pressure, which the Rangers have proved they can handle.
“Even from the drop of the puck and when Tampa really was pushing hard on us (Tuesday), we didn’t really have any panic,” added Stepan. “We made sure we stuck to our game. I think that goes with our experience.
“Being in that situation before, keeping our wits about us and just keep playing our game is what made us successful through the whole season. But other than being in that situation and understanding what it takes mentally, there is not much else you can take from the experience of being there before. I think knowing how to handle yourself is probably the biggest thing you can take from it.”
Having Henrik Lundqvist in goal helps, of course. The ‘King’ already owns Game 7 records for his current six game winning streak, as well as goals-against average (0.97) and allowing one or fewer goals in each of those games.
But the other leaders in the room know how to prepare for such situations as well.
“We always talk about our core group just relaxing and playing the game,” said Stepan. “We just somehow find a way to have the right mindset going into these games. Obviously you talk about eliminations games and your biggest player sometimes has to be your goaltender, and you talk about his numbers in elimination games, you know, off the charts.
“I think the core guys and the core guy kind of leads the charge.”