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Brassard, Rangers down Lightning to force Game 7

by Brian Compton /

TAMPA -- Derick Brassard had three goals and two assists to help the New York Rangers to a 7-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday at Amalie Arena.

The Rangers, who are 15-3 in their past 18 games when facing elimination, tied the best-of-7 series 3-3. Game 7 will be played Friday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Brassard scored early in the first period and then had two more goals in the third to help the Rangers stave off elimination.

J.T. Miller and Rick Nash each had a goal and three assists for New York, which scored five goals in the third period and can reach the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight season with another win Friday. Keith Yandle and James Sheppard scored goals.

"Honestly I just go out there and I try to just make a difference," Brassard said. "When I feel like the team needs some support offensively or I feel I need to step up, I just try to do it. I don't really put any pressure on myself. The disappointment from losing last year I think really hit me from losing the last game at home and facing elimination tonight. We're not far away to be in the Final again. I just play."

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 36 saves, is 9-1 in elimination games since the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is 6-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average in Game 7. The Rangers have never lost a Game 7 at home (7-0).

"Everything on the line again and we found a way," Lundqvist said. "I felt like we had a really tough time in the second to get pucks deep and they're a really good team when you don't get the pucks in the right places. But then in the third, I think maybe our experience in these situations helped us because we come out and play extremely well, a smart period until you get out of hand a little bit.

"It's tough because you can't help yourself but you start thinking about the next game while the game is still being played. It's hard not to go there, so we had to regroup when they got a couple there. But it's pretty natural. It's such an important time right now and for us to come through like this in a big game it's always good for your confidence. It's a good feeling."

Nikita Kucherov had two goals and Ryan Callahan scored for the Lightning. Ben Bishop allowed five goals on 26 shots before being pulled in the third period for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made six saves.

"We're not going to sit here and sulk and feel sorry for ourselves," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "We have to go and win a game on the road to get to the Cup finals. We're confident with our ability to win a game on the road. For whatever reason, we've played better on the road than at home the last couple of times, so we'll try to put a positive spin on it."

New York scored 3:36 into the game on Brassard's seventh goal of the postseason. Dan Boyle's slap shot from the point didn't make it to the net, but Miller got the puck in the left circle and passed to Brassard, who backhanded it past Bishop to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Lundqvist helped keep the Lightning scoreless with a save against Stamkos with 5:46 left in the first period. With Rangers defenseman Marc Staal in the box for holding Brenden Morrow's stick, Stamkos had a golden opportunity right in front of the net, but Lundqvist stretched his left pad across the crease to keep the puck out.

"Give them credit, that last half of the first period and the second period, they were forechecking really hard, we had no time to make plays," Staal said. "That's when (Lundqvist) came up huge for us and kept us in it. In the third, we played a very confident and solid period."

Yandle scored at 15:30 of the first to give New York a 2-0 lead. After the penalty against Staal expired, Yandle took a shot from the point that deflected off Lightning forward J.T. Brown in front of the net and past Bishop. It was Yandle's second goal of the postseason.

Tampa Bay made it 2-1 on Callahan's first goal of the postseason at 17:20 of the first period. After Rangers forward Chris Kreider took a penalty for cross-checking Stamkos, Anton Stralman made a pass through the neutral zone and sent Callahan on a breakaway. He put a backhand shot past Lundqvist.

It was Callahan's first playoff goal since May 19, 2013 against the Boston Bruins, a span of 24 games.

Tampa Bay outshot New York 16-7 in the first period.

Lundqvist kept the Rangers in front with a save against former teammate Brian Boyle midway through the second period. Moments after Kucherov finished serving a hooking penalty, he fed Boyle in the slot for a one-timer, but Lundqvist denied it with his left pad.

Lightning center Tyler Johnson nearly tied it with 40 seconds left in the second period, when he came down on a 2-on-1 with Ondrej Palat and made a move around Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, but Lundqvist handled Johnson's wrist shot to keep New York in front.

Miller gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead with his first goal of the playoffs at 3:02 of the third period. Nash started an odd-man rush through the neutral zone and fed Miller, who took a shot from the left circle that was stopped by Bishop. Brassard found the rebound and was somehow denied while Bishop was lying on his back.

But Brassard then collected the puck behind the net and fed Miller in front for an easy-tap in.

"It feels great, (but) I'm much happier that we can step up as a team and beat them and force Game 7 and give ourselves another chance," Miller said. "It's all that really matters at this point."

Sheppard put the Rangers up by three at 6:00 with his first goal of the postseason. Dominic Moore got the puck in the slot after it bounced out of a battle along the boards and his wrist shot was denied by Bishop, but Tanner Glass didn't allow the goalie to cover it up and Sheppard knocked it into the net to make it 4-1.

"Obviously they got a couple of bounces in the third," Bishop said. "One lands right on Brassards stick, and then the next one, I don't know if Miller tipped it or not.

"We played well the first 40 minutes. I thought we could have even have had the lead. Henrik played well. Obviously, third period you'd like to re-do."

Brassard scored his second goal of the game at 7:14. Nash left a drop pass for Miller, who then made a cross-ice feed to Brassard at the right circle for a slap shot. Lightning coach Jon Cooper then pulled Bishop, who was relieved by Vasilevskiy.

"I think for five straight periods, we played really, really well," Cooper said. "We played defense, we created chances. We just didn't turn pucks over. We thought we were playing a 2-1 game. Unfortunately, we weren't winning 2-1, and I think in a matter of seven or eight minutes there in that third period, we gave up more scoring chances and turned over more pucks, more than we did in all of Game 5 combined, the 60-minute game.

"For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned."

Kucherov scored for the Lightning 36 seconds later with a wrist shot from the slot to make it 5-2.

Nash gave New York a four-goal lead on a power play at 10:21 when he was allowed several attempts in the crease before putting it past Vasilevskiy. It was Nash's fifth goal of the playoffs.

"I think it was just a matter of not sitting back," Nash said of the third period. "We were trusting our game. We know against a skilled team like them, if you sit back they're just going to run the table and get some offensive chances."

Kucherov made it 6-3 with his second goal of the game at 13:21 when he took a cross-ice feed from Johnson and lifted it over Lundqvist.

Brassard completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal at 18:19.

"I was disappointed the way I played last game," Brassard said. "It was a pretty (lousy) feeling yesterday and I just tried to step up there for the team. A lot of credit to Rick and J.T. there, they made a lot of plays and I was at the right place."

The Lightning played without forward Cedric Paquette, who sustained an undisclosed injury in Tampa Bay's 2-0 win in Game 5 on Sunday. He was replaced by center Vladislav Namestnikov.


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