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Lundqvist the difference for Rangers in Game 6 win

by Dan Rosen /

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning came at New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with numbers seemingly every time they came down the ice. They were winning the middle of the ice, winning the possession game, winning everything but on the scoreboard through 40 minutes Tuesday.

Lundqvist was the difference, as he tends to be when the Rangers are facing elimination. He controlled the fire through two periods in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena. His teammates put it out with a dominant start to the third period.

The Rangers defeated the Lightning 7-3 to even the best-of-7 series at 3-3; they can eliminate them on Friday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), where they do not lose Game 7s.

The Rangers are 7-0 all time in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, including a win in the second round against the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist is 6-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average in Game 7s. He is now 15-3 with a 1.47 GAA and .954 save percentage in 18 elimination games since 2012.

"My game is so much about focus," said Lundqvist, who had 28 saves through two periods Tuesday and finished with 36. "I'm not the fastest guy. I'm not the biggest guy. It comes down to how I read the play and if my focus is good I'm in a better position, reading situations better, and that helps my game. Guys rely on speed and size, but I rely so much on my head because I'm 6-1 and I'm one of the smaller guys and I play deep. A lot of times I'm reading situations. When the focus is good that helps my game."

Lundqvist felt his focus was off in Games 2 and 3, when he allowed 12 goals on 66 shots. He didn't lose it again until Game 6 was out of hand in the Rangers' favor. The only reason he lost it was because he admittedly started thinking about Game 7 before the final buzzer.

Lundqvist gave up two window-dressing goals to Nikita Kucherov after the Rangers took a 5-1 lead.

"You can't help yourself but you start thinking about the next game while the game is still being played," Lundqvist said. "It's hard not to go there, so we had to regroup when they got a couple there. But it's pretty natural."

He gets a pass for that one. He deserves it for how he played in helping the Rangers keep a 2-1 lead entering the third period.

Lundqvist's first big save came with the shaft of his stick on Ryan Callahan's open look from between the circles at 12:54 of the first period.

"It's just a reaction," he said of the save. "It happens sometimes. You don't have time to get your blocker up and the stick is there. It's part of me so I'll take it. You need some luck too."

There was no luck on his save on Steven Stamkos' attempt from the right post at 14:14 of the first period. Lundqvist came across the crease to rob Stamkos with his left pad at during a Tampa Bay power play.

"That was a desperation move," Lundqvist said. "I had to commit to Callahan because he came in. I was late coming across. That one felt good to make that save. First period is always important, especially in a game like this where you try to build something and get good confidence. It felt good to get a good start."

Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle scored 76 seconds later to give New York a 2-0 lead.

Callahan beat Lundqvist on the blocker side with a backhanded shot off a breakaway during a Lightning power play at 17:20 to make it 2-1. But when the Lightning surged in the second period, much like they did in the second period of Game 4, Lundqvist was there to shut the door.

Lundqvist made 13 saves in the second Tuesday.

He stopped Ondrej Palat's shot off the rush 20 seconds into the period and dove across to stop Tyler Johnson on the rebound two seconds later. He came across the crease for a left-pad save on Brian Boyle's one-timer off a 3-on-2 rush at 8:46.

Lundqvist later denied J.T. Brown twice, including on a shorthanded rush late in the period. He was bowled over after making the save.

Finally, with 40 seconds to play in the second period and the Rangers clinging to a 2-1 lead, Lundqvist was in position to cut off any shooting angle or hole that Johnson had after making a nifty toe-drag move to get around Ryan McDonagh.

"I thought it was a similar game to the last time we played in here," Lundqvist said, referencing Game 4, when he made 18 saves in the second period before the Rangers ignited at the start of the third en route to a 5-1 win.

"They kept coming hard, had a lot of energy, we weathered the storm a little bit."

The Rangers were able to because of Lundqvist. That's not a surprise in these big games. That's typical.

He might have to do it again Friday. It's expected that he will.

"He's the best in the world," Rangers forward J.T. Miller said. "No doubt."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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