NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan and defenseman Anton Stralman played for the New York Rangers last season. Boyle and Stralman made it to the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, losing in five games.
On Friday, Boyle, Callahan and Stralman eliminated their former team from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning will play in their second Stanley Cup Final, against the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa Bay defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games in 2004.
"Obviously it feels awesome, being able to go to the Stanley Cup Finals," said Callahan, who was Rangers captain from 2011 until he was traded to the Lightning in 2014 for Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. "The effort we put forth tonight, the way we played, it's an exciting feeling, my first trip there."
Callahan is 4-1 in Game 7 but said it was difficult playing against his friends.
"It's hard, it's tough. Going into the series, we knew one of us wasn't going to move on," Callahan said. "But I've got a lot of close friends over there, and they've got a very, very good team.
"I kind of grew up in this building. Being in this organization for so long, it's a good feeling to do it. It's a building I'm comfortable in. But it's good. I think no matter where it is, though, I'm going to feel the same."
Stralman (7-0 in Game 7) and Boyle (6-0) each signed with the Lightning as a free agent before the season.
"I have so much respect for that team, maybe more now after seven games, just battling them," Boyle said. "They got some great efforts from guys. They're a great team. We should feel good about ourselves, but top to bottom, that organization has a lot of respect."
Boyle said it was sometimes hard to focus on the task at hand.
"Close friends … giving it everything you have. … It's emotional," he said. "There's so much at stake, but you've got to train your brain to kind of hate them for a while, and they did the same, I'm sure. You see how well all of them played. … It's tough going up against a good team. I still have a ton of respect, maybe even more of what they do over there top to bottom as an organization. But I am thrilled to be moving on."
Stralman said playing the Rangers during the regular season was when he got emotional. During the playoffs, it was all business.
"It's always a special thing in the conference final," he said. "It doesn't really matter what team it is, but it's always special when you play against former teammates. We had some great success on that team the past few years when I was here. It's always going to be special playing against them.
"You're so focused on the game itself, you're not really focused on the opponent that much in these games. It was more emotional coming in here the first time in November and playing those games than now."
Now the three will focus their attention on doing something none has before: winning a Stanley Cup.
"I guess it's my turn now to get a shot at [the Stanley Cup]," Callahan said
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Wednesday, either at Tampa Bay or at Anaheim. Game 7 of the Western Conference Final is at Honda Center on Saturday (8 p.m., NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).