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Five reasons Lightning advanced to Stanley Cup Final

by Corey Long

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 2-0 Friday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to advance to Stanley Cup Final for the second time. The Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games to win the Stanley Cup in 2004.

The conference final was a back-and-forth series, with the road team winning the final four games. The Lightning and Rangers each scored 21 goals in the series, and Game 3, which the Lightning won 6-5 in overtime, will go down as one of the wildest games of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But with the series on the line, goalie Ben Bishop proved to be up for the challenge, making 22 saves to win the series with his third shutout of the playoffs.

Here are five reasons the Lightning advanced:

1. Road warriors

The Lightning were 18-16-7 on the road during the regular season, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a different story: Tampa Bay is 7-3 on the road. The Lightning faced elimination in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena and won 5-2. They took the first two games of the second round against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. And in the conference final they won the final three games at Madison Square Garden. The last win at MSG was the first time a road team defeated the Rangers in a Game 7.

Several of Tampa Bay's biggest road wins in the playoffs came after a disappointing performance at home, showing that a young team has mental toughness and maturity.

"You shine the light bright on our guys and they'll just put on sunglasses and walk right through it," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday. "It's unreal how they respond."

2. Bishop

Going into Game 7 there was so much talk about Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist one might have thought he was playing for both teams. Lundqvist played well Friday, making 25 saves, but Bishop countered with 22 saves and his second shutout of the series.

Ben Bishop
Goalie - TBL
RECORD: 12-8
GAA: 2.15 | SVP: .920
Bishop struggled at times in the conference final. He allowed 15 goals in three games at Amalie Arena and was pulled early in the third period of Game 6. But the Lightning's faith in Bishop has been rewarded twice in Game 7 this postseason. In the first round against the Red Wings and Friday against the Rangers, he stopped all 53 shots he faced.

"Obviously we all knew [Lundqvist's] record," Bishop said. "You saw it all over the TV. And there wasn't many people picking us, so it's nice. It kind of gives you a little bit more … you don't need much in these games, but, you know, to kind of break that record at home, I think they were 6 0 (actually 7-0 at home in Game 7s), so it's always nice to do that. But the teams played so well in the last two Game 7s and really haven't given up much. If we play like we did tonight we have a pretty good chance every night."

3. The "Other" Line

The "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov slowed down a little after Game 3, but the line of Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn stepped up to handle some of the scoring.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 17
SOG: 52 | +/-: 3
Filppula and Stamkos scored in the 2-0 win in Game 5, and Killorn scored the winner in Game 7. The line combined for nine goals and 10 assists in the series and forced the Rangers to make tough decisions when it came to deciding which line to match with their top defense pairings.

4. Penalty Kill

The Lightning penalty-killing unit, much like Bishop, struggled at times during the series but came up big at the right times.

The Lightning killed all six Rangers power plays in Games 5 and 7, after allowing six goals on 15 chances in the first four games. But in Games 5 and 7 the Lightning were more determined to clear pucks from the zone, fight for loose pucks on the boards, keep the Rangers from getting in front of the net, and block shots. The result not only was no goals but few quality scoring opportunities.

"We didn't give them much," Bishop said. "[Game 6] they had some open looks, some odd-man rushes and a couple of seeing-eye pucks. And [in Game 7] the guys were blocking shots, giving up their bodies, sacrificing, and it makes a big difference when the guys are out there doing that. And it makes it really easy on me."

5. Resiliency

The Lightning have leaned on their ability to bounce back from bad performances all season. After losses at home in Games 4 and 6 the Lightning bounced back with 2-0 wins at MSG in Games 5 and 7. A lot of teams talk about putting a bad game out of their minds quickly but the players in the Lightning locker room actually do it.

Resiliency has been the story of the playoffs for the Lightning. Stamkos struggled to score at the beginning but he's picked up his game significantly. Bishop had moments when he struggled with simple plays and then had a shutout in Game 7 on the road. Whenever the Lightning were faced with a challenge, the players answered.

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