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Rangers break open tight game to force showdown

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So the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs will go to a Game Seven…

And the New York Rangers score again…

What’s that? Anyway, the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to close out New York…

And there goes another one. Goal!

What? As we were saying, the Rangers forced a deciding game…

And there goes Derick Brassard, once again, on a slap shot.

In the mind’s eye, it keeps going on. The Rangers keep skating, and keep scoring, and once again, the Lightning finds itself backed up to the edge of the cliff. New York scored seven in all Tuesday night, including a fistful in the third period, to break open a tight hockey game and turn it into a skating competition.

The Rangers, facing elimination, were once again the more desperate team. And now they return home to Madison Square Garden, where they are 7-0 in Game Sevens. Momentum is on their side, and experience.

One thing they will not have is their sudden advantage over playing in Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena. The Rangers have scored 16 goals there in their last three games, turning the lamp into a strobe light.

Tampa Bay has won twice in New York in this series.

“How do I think we’re going to respond?” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re going to respond the same way we have every time our backs are against the wall.

“You’ve watched it happen all year. You know how they’ll come out.”

We’ll see. This Lightning team has been fairly resilient, and it has been at its best in these playoffs following games when it was at its worst.

“You know what? There is pressure on both teams,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who had a four-game goal streak snapped. “I don’t care what spin you put on it. It’s Game Seven to get to the Finals. I think you throw everything out the window. It’s winner take all. We have experience playing Game Sevens, and they have experience. We’ll go at it, and it should be a good game.”

Despite the score, the Lightning felt as if it played fairly well in Wednesday’s game for two-thirds of it. It trailed 2-1 going into the third period, and the Rangers had only 18 shots.

In the third period, however, it was as if Tampa Bay was trying to tie the score at every opportunity, and the game got away from them. The Rangers scored three goals in 4:12 to take a 5-1 lead, and after that, it was a shooting gallery. New York chased Ben Bishop from the game with 12 minutes to play.

For Bishop, this one had to be a disappointment. He had played poorly in Games 3 and 4, giving up 10 goals in the two games. Then he had responded with a shutout in Game Five. This was a return to the pain, however.

“I think for five straight periods, we played really, really well,” Cooper said. “We played defense. We created chances. We just didn’t turn pucks over. We thought we were playing a 2-1 game. Unfortunately, we weren’t winning 2-1.

“And I think in a matter of seven or eight minutes there in that third period, we gave up more scoring chances and turned over more pucks, more than we did in all of Game 5 combined, the 60-minute game.”

This morning, you can accuse the Lightning of whistling past a graveyard if you wish. The odds certainly seem to be in New York’s favor. But they were in Detroit’s favor,  and the Lightning rallied. Then they were in Montreal’s favor, and the Lightning almost let them back in that series. The entire playoffs have been a series of highs and lows.

“For whatever reason that’s the way it’s been,” Stamkos said. “Whenever we’ve had a low we’ve found a way to come back with a high. We have to look at it that way. No time to sulk about it. We got beat. No matter what the score was. We have a Game Seven.”

This time, everyone knows the stakes. We are down to the final duel in the final scene.

If they do not play well, it will be their last breath.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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