For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Chris Dennis to break down the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dennis will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dennis spent 10 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including the past two as an assistant coach under Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek. Prior to that he was the Maple Leafs' video coach for eight seasons.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's lack of experience in high-pressure situations, like Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, was a major topic of discussion entering Friday, especially compared to the Rangers' veteran experience.
But to Chris Dennis, the Lightning had no reason to be intimidated by the Rangers or the aura of Madison Square Garden.
"They've got winners on that team," Dennis said. "The fact that it hasn't happened in the NHL for them yet is just a function of how young they are. A lot of them have won at a lot of different levels. … This is any other Game 7 to them; doesn't matter what league, doesn't matter what building."
The Lightning defied their doubters by beating the Rangers 2-0 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
What helped the Lightning was getting back to the defensive style they had success with earlier in the series.
"I thought they did a good job of limiting the Rangers' really great chances," Dennis said. "The Rangers are a good team; you're not going to be able to shut them down completely. But I thought they did a pretty good job of keeping them to the outside and I thought [goaltender Ben] Bishop was strong again. That's been his playoffs; he's been a little up and down. But I thought he was pretty good last night."
Bishop's 22-save shutout was his third of the playoffs and second in a Game 7. He's now beaten Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens in the second round and Lundqvist in the conference final.
"I believe before this he was a proven, top-level goalie," Dennis said of Bishop. "But once you get right to the top, that line becomes more and more fine. Has he elevated himself to the Carey Price/Henrik Lundqvist level? He's starting to be in the mix for that conversation. But I think until we see how these playoffs end up people are going to be hesitant to put him there. But he's won two Games 7s for them, Game 6 [on the road against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round]. It's being able to perform in those big moments and pressure situations that are the key to being a great goalie. He's done it twice so far so we'll see if he can continue."
Another strong element for the Lightning was their penalty kill, which held the Rangers to two shots on goal on two power plays in the second period when the game was still 0-0.
"They do a great job of knowing when to be aggressive and angling the puck into places where they can then attack and clear it," Dennis said. "I thought they did an excellent job. The Rangers might say they could have done something different … but I thought Tampa did an excellent job on the penalty kill."
Now the Lightning can relax a bit, watch Game 7 of the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) and prepare for the Stanley Cup Final, which starts June 3.
"They can focus on getting as much rest as they can before the Final starts," Dennis said. "I'm sure they'll be watching and they'll be interested. The relief of getting through that Game 7 and then understanding let's take our break, rest up and then get right back at it. You got four more wins to go."