NEW YORK – The Tampa Bay Lightning will play for the Stanley Cup, winning their third straight game at Madison Square Garden 2-0 on Friday night to beat the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals in seven games.
Ben Bishop, pulled from a Game 6 loss after allowing five goals, outplayed Henrik Lundqvist in handing New York its first loss ever in a Game 7 at the Garden. Alex Killorn scored early in the third period and Ondrej Palat iced it.
The Lightning, which won the Cup in 2004 in its only trip to the finals, will play Chicago or Anaheim for the championship. The Blackhawks are at the Ducks on Saturday night in the Western Conference's decisive game.
New York had the league's best record this season and was 15-3 in its past 18 elimination games. The most recent defeat was in the fifth game of the Cup finals last year at Los Angeles. But Bishop made sure there would be another loss for the Rangers, extending his shutout string at the Garden to 145 minutes, 43 seconds.
Bishop's teammates stormed off the bench to mob him after his 22nd save of the night. The crowd chanted "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" as both teams lined up to shake hands, and Lundqvist looked stunned as well as downhearted as he took part in the tradition.
Killorn's seventh goal of the postseason came on a backhander from the slot with traffic in front of Lundqvist, who didn't appear to see the puck skitter in to the crease, then under him into the net.
Then it was left to Bishop to protect the slim margin. On one sequence with the lead still one goal, four Rangers were in front trying to locate a loose puck, but Bishop didn't yield.
Palat finished it with his seventh of the playoffs, a wrist shot over Lundqvist's glove off a nice feed from Tyler Johnson. Tampa is 9-0 when scoring the first goal of these playoffs.
The Lightning then collected the hardware for winning the East, the Prince of Wales Trophy, and set its sights on the bigger hardware: the Stanley Cup.
The finals will begin Wednesday night.
Neither team appeared particularly tense in the opening period. Tampa had a slight edge in scoring chances in the first 20 minutes, with Lundqvist's best save off a deflection in front by Valtteri Filppula. The goalie also used his arm to fight off a deflection by Steven Stamkos that fluttered on top of the net.
New York had two fruitless power plays in the second period, the best chances on two shots by Ryan McDonagh that Bishop handled. Unlike the opening session, the period had little flow, with frequent whistles for offside calls and the like.
Each goalie made some superb saves in that period, Bishop with his pad on a slap shot by Derick Brassard — he of the hat trick and two assists in Game 6 — and Lundqvist on Nikita Kucherov's wrist shot, then a brilliant arm stop on Jason Garrison's wrister.
Then it was on to the third period, which was a prosperous time for the Lightning, which has beaten Detroit in seven games, Montreal in six and the Rangers in seven this spring. Friday's loss dropped Rangers coach Alain Vigneault to 5-1 in Game 7s.