By Barry Wilner, AP
NEW YORK–Tampa Bay will play for the NHL’s Stanley Cup after overcoming the New York Rangers and their intimidating playoff record on home ice to win 2-0 at Madison Square Garden on Friday and take the Eastern Conference series 4-3.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, pulled from the previous game after allowing five goals, was instrumental 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 sealed the victory.
The Lightning, who won the Cup in 2004 in their only trip to the finals, will play Chicago or Anaheim for the championship. The Blackhawks are at the Ducks on Saturday 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 games when a loss meant playoff elimination. But Bishop made sure there would be another loss for the Rangers, and he has now gone 145 minutes and 43 seconds without conceding a goal at the Garden.
Tampa Bay has a 9-0 record in this postseason when scoring first, so would have been supremely confident of victory after Alex Killorn slipped a backhander under Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist early in the third period.
Bishop stood up against all the offense the Rangers could muster and Ondrej Palat iced it with 8:43 to go when he took a feed from Tyler Johnson and placed a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s glove.
��I felt pretty confident in this building,�� said Bishop. ��We’ve done well against them all year. I was just looking forward to getting out there again.��
The Lightning, who won the Cup in 2004 in a seventh game over Calgary, allowed only four goals in as many games at the Garden.
��For whatever reason that was probably the most calm Game 7 I’ve ever been a part of,�� Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. ��And not just for me, but on the bench. Going into the third, we were just loose.
��We knew we were playing the game the right way, we knew were going to get one.��
The Rangers had pulled off a succession of late tying and go-ahead goals throughout the postseason, but there was to be no such dramatic climax this time.
��It’s painful,�� Lundqvist said. ��Getting to this point is extremely tough. I’ve been (in the Eastern Conference finals) three times. I like the consistency, I like what we’re doing as a group. There are a lot of good teams out there … in the end, you need a good team but you also need a process.��
The Lightning collected the Prince of Wales Trophy for winning the East, and set their sights on the bigger hardware: the Stanley Cup. The finals will begin Wednesday.
��We’re a growing team,�� said defenseman Anton Stralman, a Ranger last season. ��We’re not at our best yet.��
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the loss that captain Ryan McDonagh played with a broken foot. McDonagh sat out the first 12:41, but played a regular shift the rest of the way.