TAMPA – The New York Rangers faced elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday night, so they did what they do best in the playoffs:
Force a Game 7.
The Rangers thumped the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena, 7-3, chasing starter Ben Bishop in the third period and humbling the Bolts. Derick Brassard had a 5-point night, with three goals and two assists. J.T. Miller, playing up with Brassard and Rick Nash, had a goal and two assists.
Henrik Lundqvist was good when he needed to be, making 36 saves.
"In the third period, with our season on the line, we probably played our best period of this series so far. So we wanted a chance, and we got a chance," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
New York improved to 14-3 when facing playoff elimination since 2012. Game 7 is Friday night at Madison Square Garden, where they’re 7-0 in Game 7s.
It'll be the second Game 7 of the playoffs for both the Rangers and the Bolts.
The Rangers struck first at 3:36 of the first period as Derick Brassard slipped the puck through the five hole of Ben Bishop. The Lightning attempted to clear the zone, but Dan Boyle made a nice keep, spun and fired the puck back towards the slot. It slipped off the stick of Tyler Johnson of the Lightning to J.T. Miller, who slipped a pass to a wide open Brassard.
He made a move and tucked it through Bishop’s wickets for his seventh of the season.
Meanwhile, Lundqvist was locked in. He turned aside a Ryan Callahan shot with his stick, sending it into the stands. Later, he slid over to his left to rob Steven Stamkos on the doorstep with his pad as the Rangers killed off a penalty.
Twenty-seven seconds after that power play ended, the Rangers went up 2-0, thanks in part to Brassard.
He was dangerous down low for the Rangers before sending the puck back to the point to find Keith Yandle. The defenseman sent a high, fluttering shot that flew over Bishop’s glove for the 2-0 lead at 15:30.
The Lightning were in trouble. They earned a later power play on a cross-check orgy that saw Stamkos, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan all go to the penalty boxes. Tampa needed someone to make a play, and that someone, unexpectedly, was former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
Without a goal in the playoffs, a postseason that saw him miss time with an emergency appendectomy, Callahan was cherry-picking at the Rangers blue line when Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman took the puck behind the Bolts net, skated between the circles and fired a pinpoint pass through Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Callahan made a forehand-to-backhand move, and beat Lundqvist to his stick side at 17:20 on the power play, the Rangers goalie barely moving on the play due to the element of surprise.
Was that a move Callahan used in practice against Lundqvist when the two were with the Rangers?
“It’s not too often you beat him in practice. I made a move, tied to sick to it, and luckily it went in," he said.
The first period ended with the Rangers up 2-1.
The second period saw the Lightning continue their possession advantage (53.57%) but were unable to get one past Lundqvist despite some great chances. Tyler Johnson was stoned twice, including on a 2-on-1 late in the period. The Rangers’ best chance came when a shot beat Bishop and went off the post, only to have defenseman Jason Garrison sweep it under him to get a whistle.
So the Rangers entered the third period with a lead. This season, they had gone 42-0-1 with the lead after two, including 6-0-0 in the playoffs. Under coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers were 81-3-3 when leading after two in the regular season or the postseason.
Those rends continued.
In the third, Miller made it 3-1 at 3:02 after the Rangers attacked the Lightning zone on an odd-man rush. Rick Nash fired a shot from the right side that was saved by Bishop but deflected to Brassard. Bishop twisted and sprawled to the ice to make a fantastic save with his back to the Rangers sniper. But Brassard controlled again, slipped the puck in front and J.T. Miller – who had previously been awarded the Rangers’ second goal, only to have it revert to Yandle – gave the Rangers the cushion.
They extended the lead to 4-1 when James Sheppard and Tanner Glass crashed the net, with Sheppard getting his first goal of the playoffs at 6:00 of the third.
They further extended the lead to 5-1 just 1:14 later, as Miller found a wide open Brassard for his second of the game at 7:14.
The Lightning pulled Bishop after five goals on 26 shots. It was the third time he’s given up five goals to the Rangers in this series.
Nikita Kucherov got one back for the Lightning at 7:50, but it was answered by Rick Nash on the power play at 10:21 – standing right next to backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for his fifth of the playoffs. Kucherov would scored again, from Johnson, to make it 6-3.
But that was all for the Lightning, who blew chance to play for the Stanley Cup for the first time since winning it in 2004. Brassard iced it with an empty netter for his fifth point.
They'll have another chance in Game 7, but that's a game the Rangers don't lose in often.