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Lightning defeat Rangers, advance to Cup Final

by Brian Compton /

NEW YORK -- Ben Bishop made 22 saves, and theTampa Bay Lightning scored twice in the third period in a 2-0 win against the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday at Madison Square Garden.

Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored for the Lightning, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2004. They will face the winner of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, which takes place Saturday at Honda Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Stanley Cup Final begins Wednesday in either Tampa or Anaheim (8 p.m. ET; NBC).

It was a tremendous response by Bishop, who was pulled in the third period of Game 6 after allowing five goals on 26 shots in a 7-3 loss in Tampa on Tuesday.

Bishop is 7-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts following a loss in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was his second shutout of the series and third of the postseason.

Two of those shutouts have come in Game 7; he shut out the Detroit Red Wings in the deciding game of the first round. He is the third goalie in NHL history with two Game 7 shutouts in a single postseason, joining Patrick Roy (2002) and Tim Thomas (2011).

"You don't want to give up that many goals at home, but I felt good with the way I was playing," Bishop said. "Obviously they got some bounces last game and some open looks. I feel pretty confident in this building, and we've done well against them all year, so I wasn't too worried about it. I was just looking forward to getting out there again."

Tampa Bay eliminated three Original Six teams in a row to reach the Cup Final: Detroit, the Montreal Canadiens and the Rangers.

"You know what? We've played in some pretty special buildings along this playoff run so far," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "You start in Detroit, you go to Montreal, you come here … I think it's the first team to beat three Original Six teams to get to the Final if I'm not mistaken. That says how tough the road has been. Those are tough places to win.

"I don't think we were intimidated by the crowd tonight. I think we embraced the challenge. We said that a lot, about going out and having fun. We had a little talk before the game about going out there and sticking to our structure no matter what happened. Give them some credit; their goaltender made some unbelievable saves early and kept this game 0-0 going into the third. You never know what's going to happen. We stuck with it. That's why I'm so proud of these guys."

Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves for the Rangers, who entered 7-0 in Game 7 at home but were denied a return trip to the Cup Final. Lundqvist had won six consecutive Game 7s, an NHL record.

New York, which did not lose three straight home games during the regular season, lost Games 2, 5 and 7 against the Lightning. The Rangers, who won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points during the regular season, scored four goals at home and 17 in Tampa in the series.

The Rangers are the first team in NHL history to be shut out in home in Game 5 and Game 7.

"I told the group here we're a great group and we're right there," Lundqvist said. "The last three, four years, I think we are one of the teams that played the most games in the playoffs. We're right there. It's a great group to be a part of, and we worked extremely hard. This year was not enough, and we were so close. That's what makes it special to go through this, but it's also extremely tough when you don't come up with the result."

Killorn scored 1:54 into the third period when he beat Dominic Moore into the slot and let go a backhand shot that found its way through a crowd and between Lundqvist's pads. It was Killorn's fourth goal of the series and seventh of the playoffs.

"We didn't think it was going to be a nice one because [Lundqvist] was making a lot of nice saves," Killorn said. "On that play it was just kind of a seeing-eye shot. Just put it to the net. [Valtteri] Filppula had a good screen, and [Stamkos] was in front. I was pretty fortunate it went through his five-hole."

Bishop kept Tampa Bay in front with his best save of the game 9:21 into the third period when he denied New York centerDerick Brassard from point-blank range after Marc Staal's shot didn't reach the net. Brassard had three goals and two assists in Game 6.

"He's much maligned for giving up the goals he gave up in the end, but the two pivotal games that we've needed to win in this building, he shut the door," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Bishop.

Palat doubled Tampa Bay's lead with 8:43 remaining when he took a pass from Tyler Johnson and beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot from the left circle to make it 2-0. It was Palat's seventh goal of the postseason.

"I think after we scored our first one in the third, they got some more chances, but we did a good job of neutralizing their speed and we were on the right side of pucks and blocking shots when we had to," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Obviously [Bishop] came up huge when we needed him."

Lundqvist made his best save of the first period with 7:59 remaining when he knocked Stamkos' redirection of Matthew Carle's shot from the left point on top of the net to keep the game scoreless.

Lundqvist made another big save with 3:55 left in the second period when he got his left shoulder on Jason Garrison's shot from the left circle after Garrison received a nice cross-ice feed from Palat. Two minutes later, Lundqvist got his right pad across the crease to rob Johnson from point-blank range after Nikita Kucherov sent a pass from behind the net.

"I think we all expected him to do that; he's a great goaltender," Johnson said of Lundqvist. "There's no denying that. We knew we would just have to keep getting opportunities and we knew he was going to save a lot of those, so it was just a matter of time for us to get try to get more opportunities than he could save. Luckily, we were able to."

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh played 1:47 in the first period because of a broken foot sustained earlier in the series, coach Alain Vigneault said. He did not practice Thursday. He finished with 16:41 of ice time.

"It won't really hit you for a couple of days, but that's a real good hockey team over there," McDonagh said. "Two teams that went the distance, so not much more you can ask for."

New York dressed seven defensemen for the first time this postseason. Matt Hunwick played for the first time since April 24; center James Sheppard, who scored in Game 6, was scratched.


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