There were a couple of significant moments in this game – key moments that helped the Rangers tie up the series and set up a deciding seventh game Friday back in New York City.
The first of those occurred at the 3:36 mark of the game when Derick Brassard gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. The Rangers never had to chase the game after that goal – and they played a solid, defensive game in protecting that lead.
The second came at the start of the third period. Leading 2-1 after two periods, the Rangers made a push early in the third and that push set the tone for the entire period. The Lightning didn’t have an answer and unraveled defensively. After playing pretty well defensively for the first 40 minutes – and holding the Rangers to just a few scoring chances – the Bolts had a nightmare third. They allowed numerous chances, gave the Rangers wide-open looks, as well as second, third and even fourth shots in certain sequences. New York netted five goals in the third to make the game a blowout, though it was a one-goal contest for much of the first two periods.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of that first New York goal. It put the Lightning into chase mode almost from the start of the game. The goal was a result of a small but significant mistake by the Lightning. On a defensive zone faceoff, the Bolts pushed the puck toward the blue line. Victor Hedman attempted to clear it, but didn’t get enough on the puck. Dan Boyle kept it in the zone (barely) as a result. Boyle alertly hurried the puck down low, where J.T. Miller fed it in front to an open Brassard. He tucked a wide-open shot through Ben Bishop’s legs. It was a small mistake by the Lightning in their failure to clear the zone, but it proved to be a costly one.
The Lightning had a few good looks to tie the score after Brassard’s opening tally, but Henrik Lundqvist made a save on Ryan Callahan shot from the slot with the shaft of his stick and later, a terrific pad stop on a Steven Stamkos attempt during a Lightning power play. Moments after the power play ended, the Lightning allowed another goal. Keith Yandle wristed a shot from the point that deflected off a Lightning player past Bishop. It’s the second such goal Yandle has scored in this series.
Ryan Callahan got one goal back for the Lightning when he converted on a power play breakaway with 2:40 left. The Lightning trailed 2-1 after one.
The second period was scoreless, as the Rangers settled into a sound defensive posture. The best Lightning chances came on two shorthanded rushes for J.T. Brown and Tyler Johnson. Lundqvist stopped both. There was also a good chance when Nikita Kucherov came out of the penalty box and grabbed the puck. It was a three-on-two for the Lightning, but Lundqvist stopped the shot from Brian Boyle. Other than those looks, however, the Lightning weren’t able to generate many Grade-A chances.
Still, it was only a 2-1 deficit heading into the third. But the Rangers set the tone with a strong opening shift and then were the beneficiaries of some sloppy Lightning d-zone play. Give the Rangers credit for working hard to win some loose pucks and to stay with pucks after initial shots, but the Lightning greatly aided the New York cause. Miller’s goal came when he finished a chance after Bishop had made back-to-back saves on Rick Nash and Brassard. The fourth New York goal, scored by James Sheppard, came after Bishop made initial saves on Dominic Moore and Sheppard. The 5-1 goal was an open net for Brassard, left unguarded at the right circle. Though the Lightning managed a couple of goals from Kucherov, the game was out of reach. Nash netted a power play rebound goal and Brassard finished his hat trick with an empty netter. The third was a defensive nightmare for the Bolts. They allowed 18 shots total through the first two periods, then yielded 16 in the third period alone.
There’s no way to sugarcoat a 7-3 loss, especially when a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was on the line. But the Lightning actually didn’t play a bad game through the first two periods – they just found themselves down by a goal. The third, of course, was another story. The Lightning will need to clean up their d-zone on Friday in Game Seven if they hope to win the series. The line of Brassard, Miller and Nash was sensational in Game Six and the Lightning will have to find a way to control that unit in Game Seven. From the Lightning’s standpoint, getting the lead and forcing the Rangers to chase the game would also help.
The Rangers are an experienced team that has had great success in elimination games. They are now 15-3 in their last 18 elimination contests and 9-1 in the past 10. Their ability to play well in these high-pressure games was on display in Game Six and they earned the victory. Now we’ll be hearing a lot more about New York’s impressive mark in elimination games heading into Friday. We’ll also hear about how the Rangers have never lost a Game Seven at home. But the Lightning have shown the ability to bounce back well after losses throughout the season – and in this series. They’ll need to summon that ability again if they are going to advance.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Brassard’s first goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Derick Brassard – Rangers. Hat trick, two assists.
2.J.T. Miller – Rangers. Goal and three assists.
3.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals.