At around 8 PM tonight the New York Rangers will be 60 minutes of hockey away from potentially returning to the Stanley Cup Final. In the 2015 Playoffs the Rangers have won all four of the elimination games they have faced, including Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Tampa Bay. The story line that no one can escape from heading into tonight's Game 7 is Henrik Lundqvist's superhuman statistics and winning streak in Game 7s.
"We need Hank to be Hank. He always seems to be a key part of our success." -Derek Stepan
In the 2015 Playoffs alone, Hank has posted a 4-0 record with a 1.84 GAA and a .946 SV%. Those numbers are obscenely good, and, quite frankly, they are nothing compared to his NHL record-setting six consecutive Game 7 wins. If the Rangers find a way to win tonight, Henrik Lundqvist would take over sole possession of the most Game 7s won by a goaltender (he is currently tied at 6 with Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur). To make a long story short; Henrik Lundqvist has shown time and time again that he performs at his very best when everything is on the line.
Will his teammates do enough to help him get the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year?
The offensive eruption in Game 6 that resulted in a 7-3 final score felt almost too good to be true given the fact that the Rangers were shut out by Ben Bishop at the Garden in Game 5. Rick Nash, JT Miller, and Derick Brassard all had monster games on Tuesday, but what will they and the rest of the Rangers skaters do for the club and their goalie tonight? Well, if they aren't going to be getting shots on net, driving possession, or being involved in scoring plays they had better make sure to stay out of the box.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have found 7 of their 19 goals on the power play in this series. Even against an outstanding penalty killing team like the Rangers, Tampa's power play has been one of its best weapons against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. On the "list of things we need to stop" that should be on the dry erase board in the locker room there should be three major items; find a way to stop Steven Stamkos, contain the Triplets, and stay out of the penalty box. We've seen plenty of stupid and unforgivable penalties in this series from Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, and Marc Staal, hopefully we won't see any more of that tonight at the Garden.
The Rangers haven't won a game at Madison Square Garden since their 2-1 Game 1 victory over Tampa Bay back on May 16th. Honestly, that doesn't matter. Henrik's amazing Game 7 winning streak and elimination game stats don't matter. The only thing that matters is which team comes out of tonight with the higher score at the end of regulation or in overtime. Tonight's Game 7 might be a strategic grind with a tight score, or maybe even another display of offensive fireworks, or perhaps the game and the series will be decided by one lucky/unlucky bounce or one greasy, ugly goal.
"If anything you can draw a little bit of experience to know what the atmosphere is going to be like, but other than that it comes down to 60 minutes of hockey. Both teams are making adjustments and getting themselves ready for one game; winner moves on." -Derek Stepan
Hockey can be a cruel game. Half of a dozen fanned shots on scoring chances might not hurt all that much when you're leading 2-1 after the first period, but when the other team pots a goal or two in the second period those missed chances can and will come back to haunt you. The Rangers need to make damn sure that they do everything in their power to play their brand of hockey, make intelligent decisions with the puck in their own zone, and maintaining their discipline against the Lightning tonight. In the 3 games that the Blueshirts have lost in this series it felt like they did half of the Bolts' work for them with bad penalties, awful turnovers, or infuriating line matchups. The Rangers can't let the now commonplace self-inflicted wounds they give themselves be the difference in tonight's Game 7, they need to keep it simple and coerce Tampa to make more of the same mistakes they did in Game 6.
Sometime late tonight we'll all either be ecstatic that the Rangers are returning to the Stanley Cup Final and are just 4 wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup, or we'll all be utterly inconsolable and governed by our anger, pessimism, and disappointment. Feels like a bit of a coin flip, doesn't it?
I'm proud of this team and what they've accomplished this season both in and out of the playoffs, but I also know that they have what it takes to do and be more. In all honesty, I expect them to do more. Tonight, at the Garden, in front of a thundering sea of blue, the Rangers have a chance to punch their own ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. Games 1 through 6 are now almost as irrelevant as the regular season. To get to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have to win tonight's one game series against Stamkos' Tampa Bay Lightning. Once that puck drops at center ice, let's hope we all get to see the team that we know the Rangers can be... or at the very least, the team that finds a way to win the game.
Let's go Rangers. Believe.