TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Henrik Lundqvist had lots of help in another season-saving performance for the New York Rangers.
The star goalie stopped 36 shots and Derick Brassard had a hat trick for the Presidents’ Trophy winners, who forced Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals with a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
The Rangers, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit to oust the Washington Capitals in the second round, improved to 4-0 in elimination games this postseason. Lundqvist is 9-1 with his team’s season on the line since the start of last year’s playoffs, and 15-3 under those circumstances dating back to Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern quarterfinals against Ottawa.
He’ll have a chance to build on that superb record in Game 7 on Friday night in New York.
“We capitalized early on our chances, and after that our goaltender was asked to make some big saves, which he did,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “But in the third period, with our season on the line, we probably played our best period of this series so far. We wanted a chance and we got a chance.”
Brassard also had two assists for the Rangers, who evened the series 3-3 after being shut out in Game 5 at home. Keith Yandle, James Sheppard and J.T. Miller also scored on Ben Bishop, who was pulled with New York leading 5-1 with just under 13 minutes remaining. Rick Nash added a power-play goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brassard had an empty-netter with 1:41 to go to complete his hat trick.
“Every time we’re in an elimination game, that’s the way we play,” Brassard said. “We’re just going to go out there at home and try to play our best game.”
New York scored five times in the third period, turning a tight game into a rout. Miller’s coming off a pass from Brassard after Bishop rejected Nash’s shot from the right, as well as Brassard’s rebound from left of the net, gave the Rangers a 3-1 cushion following a scoreless and sloppy second period.
Nash said the key to breaking in open “was not taking our foot off the gas.”
“This is a really skilled offensive team that if you sit back, they’re going to take it to you,” Nash said. “Especially those top two lines. They’ve got some great skill. Getting that third goal was huge.”
Lundqvist was outstanding before giving up a pair of third-period goals to Nikita Kucherov. Ryan Callahan scored for Tampa Bay in the first period, but the Rangers did a good job of limiting opportunities for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who only got off two shots after scoring in four consecutive games.
“He gives us a chance to win every single game, and that’s all you can ask,” Miller said of Lundqvist’s latest season-saver. “He’s one of the best in the world, no doubt.”
Brassard got the Rangers off to a strong start with his first goal at 3:36 of the first period. He scored again at 7:14 of the third, chasing Bishop and finishing a stretch in which New York scored three times in just over four minutes to break the game open.
Nash finished with a goal and three assists. Yandle had a goal and an assist, and Miller finished with his first goal in 22 career playoff games, plus three assists.
“The third period we weren’t ourselves,” Stamkos said. “No excuses. … We’re not going to sit here and sulk and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to win a game on the road to get to the Cup finals. We’re confident with our ability to win on the road.”
Stamkos had a goal and an assist, Bishop had 26 saves and the Lightning killed four penalties to take Game 5 in New York. Lundqvist played well enough in that game for the Rangers to win on most nights, however the inability to take advantage of power-play opportunities was the difference in the outcome.
Brassard scored on New York’s first shot of this game and Yandle’s second goal of the playoffs made it 2-0 at 15:30. That came less than a minute after the Rangers killed off a penalty with help from Lundqvist, who made a nice pad stop on Stamkos to deny the Lightning star from point-blank range.
Two former Rangers figured in the Lightning trimming the deficit 2-1, with Callahan — traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for Martin St. Louis last season — skating in alone on Lundqvist after taking a pass from Anton Stralman, who left New York as a free agent last summer.
Callahan, playing in the conference finals after undergoing an emergency appendectomy that sidelined him for two games in the second round, flicked a well-placed shot into the left side of the net to get the Lightning, as well as a sellout crowd of 19,204, back in the game.
“It’s tough. You want to finish it out when you can,” Callahan said. “You have to move past it. We have another opportunity. We just have to win one on the road.”
NOTES: Bishop was credited with his second assist of the playoffs on Callahan’s goal. … Stamkos was the first player with a goal in four straight games of a playoff series against the Rangers since Mario Lemieux scored in all five games of the 1996 conference semifinals. The four-game streak also tied a Lightning playoff record set by Martin St. Louis in and matched by Vincent Lecavalier in 2007. … Lightning C Cedric Paquette sat out with an undisclosed injury. … Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said RW Mats Zuccarello, who hasn’t played since getting hit by a puck in the helmet during Game 5 of the first-round series against Pittsburgh, is making progress but is not ready to play.
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