NEW YORK -- Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning were a Game 7 win from reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, an opportunity most players never get in their career.
Stamkos will get his second opportunity to advance to the Cup Final with a Game 7 win when the Lightning and New York Rangers play the decisive game of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Lightning lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
"For us, you just never know where hockey is going to take you next," Stamkos said Thursday after the Lightning arrived in Manhattan. "[Brenden Morrow] has been to the Finals before, Brian [Boyle] has been to the Finals before. When I was one game away, you think you're going to be right back there next year.
"It's taken four years to get back, and you have to realize the magnitude of the game and the situation you're in, and really how close you are."
In that Game 7 against the Bruins, Stamkos was hit in the face by a shot from Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Stamkos left the ice before returning with a full cage attached to his helmet. He played 18:57 in a 1-0 loss.
"I don't really remember taking the puck to the face as much as you remember losing," Stamkos said. "That was a tough one; that was my first experience in the playoffs, and it was a great run. We're right back in the same position right now, so I'm excited about the opportunity of having a little different result this time around."
Coach Jon Cooper said he doesn't think the Lightning will need much motivating in the form of a pregame pep talk.
"My 102nd speech? It's two words: Game 7. Don't need much more of an introduction than that," Cooper said. "I'm sure you hear the same cliche or memory from everyone who's been a part of a Game 7: Growing up in the streets as a kid, you don't say you scored the game-winning goal in Game 1. So it's a pretty exciting time."
If the Lightning are going to defeat the Rangers, one of the keys will be stopping the line of Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and J.T. Miller, which Stamkos has skated against for most of the series. In the Rangers' 7-3 win in Game 6 on Tuesday to even the best-of-7 series, the line combined for five goals and 13 points.
"They obviously had a good game last game and probably have some confidence now. I can speak to having a good game and then getting on a run," Stamkos said. "To be honest, I don't think we're too keen on matching up all the time when we're at home. When we're on the road, we'll probably get their line. They're feeling good about themselves; they can all play at both ends of the rink."
Cooper said Tampa Bay's ability to limit New York's top line will come down to effort, not a matchup.
"It's funny, they've had their success in our building; they haven't had the success in their building," Cooper said. " … I don't think the line matchups or the [defense] matchups are the keys; I suppose it's how hard you're going to play against them. That was our big issue. Are you going to give them a free pass when they're going to the net? Are you going to give them a free pass when they go through here? Or are you going to make them look over their shoulder coming into those scoring areas? And that's what we didn't do, especially in the third period.
"They got their confidence going, and we weren't competing at the level we needed to. That's what it comes down to, is make them pay the price and make it hard for them to get to those areas, and they're probably not going to get points."