The drama is over. On Friday, May 29, 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers by a score of 2-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This victory comes on the heels of a 7-3 victory by the Rangers in Game 6. The variables seemed tilted heavily in favor of the Rangers, as they came into the game with a 7-0 record all-time in Game 7 contests played at Madison Square Garden.
The game was scoreless for two periods, as the anxious capacity crowd of 18,006 looked on. When it was over, the contest proved to be a microcosm of New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s career. The future Hall of fame netminder can win virtually any game, but not when his team scores zero goals. In this most important of games, the Rangers offense went MIA.
Coming into the game, Lundqvist had a career record of 6-1 in Game 7’s and had only given up a total of six goals in those games. In this game, he gave up two goals, but the real problem was the goose egg on his team’s side of the scoreboard. This was the second straight home playoff game in which the Rangers were shutout. Over the course of the first two scoreless periods of this game, Tampa Bay outshot the Rangers by a margin of 19-11. Then came the 3rd period. Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn scored the first goal of the game, at the 1:54 mark of the final stanza. The shot from Killorn came from down low in the Rangers zone and was not a particularly hard shot, but it did come through a screen and the puck managed to sneak between the pads of Lundqvist.
In the wake of the goal by the Bolts, the Rangers were able to ramp up the intensity a bit, but Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was equal to the task. Tampa Bay forward Ondrej Palat then scored an insurance goal at 11:17. Though the score was just 2-0 in favor of Tampa Bay, the energy seemed to leave the building. Both the Rangers team and the Rangers crowd seemed to have already accepted the inevitable, though there was still plenty of time left in the game.
The Lightning will now have a few days of rest before the Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday, June 3. They will need to await the outcome of the Western Conference Final, before they will know in which arena the first game will be played. On Saturday, May 30, the Chicago Blackhawks will be in Anaheim to play the Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. If Chicago wins, Game 1 of the Cup Final will take place at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay. If Anaheim wins, Game 1 of the Cup Final will be played in Anaheim.
This is the Bolts’ first trip to the Cup Final since their Stanley Cup championship run in 2004, though they did push the Boston Bruins to Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final. The Tampa Bay team now seems ready to remain in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference for the next 3-5 years. Going forward, their toughest adversary will more than likely be the salary cap. The New York Rangers face a much different challenge.
The Blueshirts went to the Cup Final last season. This season, they had the best regular season record in the NHL, but fell short of the Cup Final. The main enemy of the Rangers, is the clock which may be ticking on the the career of Lundqvist. At age 33, “King Henry” is still in the prime of a stellar career which is headed toward an inevitable twilight. If they are to accomplish the ultimate goal, and have a repeat of the 1994 magic, they will have to revamp the roster and get it done within the next two to four seasons.
Overall, Rangers forwards Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis were playoff disappointments. Nash, because he now has an undeniable history of shrinking before the spotlight, and St. Louis, because he will be turning 40 on June 18 and Father time has been tapping him on the shoulder. Perhaps a forward like Justin Williams, who has been terrific for the Los Angeles Kings, and has been on three Cup-winning teams, would be a good fit. There is much speculation that Williams will soon become a salary cap casualty in Los Angeles.
Amidst all this, is the fact that energetic Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello was injured for the entire Eastern Conference Final. A healthy Zuccarello very well could have been the difference in a playoff year in which the Rangers made it all the way to Game 7 of the Conference Final. Game 7 was a scoreless tie going into the 3rd period, so the Rangers were that close to a return to the biggest dance of the year.
This likely will not be the last postseason meeting between these two teams, and may be the beginning of a great new modern-day rivalry. As for now, the Tampa bay Lightning can give themselves a collective pat on the back before they begin preparation for the toughest round of playoffs. The Stanley Cup Final awaits. The Bolts are now just four wins away from glory.
TBL vs NYR, May 29, 2015 – Final score: TBL 2, NYR 0. Final shots on goal: TBL 25, NYR 22. Power play: NYR 0-2, TBL 0-0. Three Stars of the game: #1) Ben Bishop – TBL, #2) Alex Killorn – TBL, #3) Henrik Lundqvist – NYR. Series recap – Game 1: NYR 2, TBL 1. Game 2: TBL 6, NYR 2. Game 3: TBL 6, NYR 5 (OT). Game 4: NYR 5, TBL 1. Game 5: TBL 2, NYR 0. Game 6: NYR 7, TBL 3. Game 7: TBL 2, NYR 0. Total goals scored: TBL 21, NYR 21.