(SportsNetwork.com) - Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers have proven to be nearly unbeatable in elimination games during recent postseasons. If the Rangers continue that trend on Friday, they'll find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals for a second straight season.
After routing the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tuesday's Game 6 at Amalie Arena, the Blueshirts earned the right to host the Bolts in tonight's decisive Game 7 battle from Madison Square Garden.
New York faced a must-win situation the last time out, as it entered Game 6 down 3-2 in this best-of-seven set. Although they led by a slim 2-1 margin after 40 minutes, the Rangers used a big third period on Tuesday to crush the Lightning by a 7-3 score and force this evening's all-important battle.
The win pushed the Rangers' record in their last 18 elimination games to 15-3. That stretch dates back to the opening round against Ottawa in 2012, and according to Elias Sports Bureau, New York's 15 wins in elimination games during this run are the most any team has earned over a four-year span in NHL history.
New York is 9-1 when facing elimination since the start of last spring's postseason when it won the Eastern Conference title before losing in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. The Blueshirts also have won an NHL-record 10 straight elimination games on home ice.
The Rangers have won six straight Game 7s and they own a 7-0 all-time record in Game 7s at MSG.
Both New York and Tampa are 1-0 in Game 7s this spring. The Rangers posted a 2-1 overtime win against visiting Washington in Round 2, while the Lightning recorded a 2-0 win over Detroit in a home Game 7 during the opening round.
Derick Brassard notched a hat trick and two assists to help the Rangers improve to 4-0 in elimination games during the current postseason. Brassard's linemates also had huge nights on Tuesday, with J.T. Miller and Rick Nash each adding a goal and three assists.
"We wanted a chance and we got a chance," said New York head coach Alain Vigneault. "Brassard's line was just unbelievable the entire game."
James Sheppard and Keith Yandle also scored for the Rangers, who used a three- goal burst early in the third period to take control of the game. Miller made it 3-1 at 3:02 of the third, Sheppard scored at the six-minute mark and Brassard pushed the cushion to four goals at 7:14.
Tampa would get no closer than three goals of the lead the rest of the way. Brassard completed the scoring and his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 1:41 left.
Henrik Lundqvist improved to 15-3 in elimination games since 2012 as he stopped 36 shots for the visitors. He boasts a 1.47 goals against average and .954 save percentage over those 18 outings. Lundqvist also improved to 7-0 with a 1.39 GAA in his last seven appearances in either Game 6 or 7.
"Everything on the line again, and we found a way," said Lundqvist. "In the third (period) maybe our experience in these situations helped us because we played extremely well, a smart period."
Ben Bishop, who made 26 saves in Tampa's 2-0 shutout win over New York in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, was pulled from Tuesday's tilt after Brassard notched his second goal at 7:14 of the third. Andrei Vasilevskiy gave up one goal on seven shots in relief.
"In a matter of seven or eight minutes there we gave up more scoring chances and turned over more pucks than we did combined in 60 minutes in Game 5," said Tampa head coach Jon Cooper. "It's just more lessons learned and sometimes you have to go through the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't."
Nikita Kucherov scored twice in the loss and former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan had the other goal for the Lightning, who are looking to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 2004.
The winner of tonight's decisive battle will face either Anaheim or Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Ducks are hosting the Blackhawks on Saturday in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Lundqvist has posted a 10-0 record, 0.96 GAA and a .968 save percentage in his last 10 home elimination games. He boasts a 6-1 lifetime record in Game 7s and is tied with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most Game 7 victories in NHL history. Lundqvist has a 0.97 GAA and a .966 save percentage over his seven career Game 7 appearances.
Bishop's played his first Game 7 in the opening round against the Red Wings and stopped all 31 shots to earn a shutout in that contest.
The Rangers are 9-5 all-time in Game 7s, while Tampa is 4-1.
New York is 6-4 at MSG in these playoffs, but has lost two straight at home against Tampa since taking Game 1 by a 2-1 count. The Lightning are 6-3 on the road this spring.