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Lightning players say MSG doesn’t intimidate them

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The building has teeth.

It is old, and it is rusty, and you cannot help but think about the great players who have walked the corridors. It is big, and it is ancient, and its fans may have rabies. It is legendary, and it is intimidating, and it is oppressive.

To an outsider, Madison Square Garden can be an arena where dreams die. Seven times, it has been host to a Game Seven, and each time, the New York Rangers have won. Four times, Henrik Lundqvist was the goaltender. (Counting home and away, New York and Lundqvist have won six straight game sevens). For the Tampa Bay  Lightning, the task of beating New York seems formidable.

On the other hand, there is the way that Alex Killorn looks at it.

“I guess it means they’re due to lose one,” he said.

If the Lightning is to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, that has to happen. The Lightning has to bounce back from a terrible third period in Game Six, go on the road and beat a confident Rangers team no matter what history says. It’s either that or go home.

“It’s a hostile environment,” said defenseman Victor Hedman. “It’s a tough building to play in. We’ve won there four times. We feel confident in our abilities.”

The good news? It’s time for a good game for the Lightning. As a team, it is a natural contrarian. As soon as you decide that Tampa Bay is pretty good, they play a stinker like Tuesday night’s 7-3 loss. And as soon as you decide they are not complete, they play a jewel like Game Five.

Which team will show up for Game Seven?

We’ll see.

“Our group is so young, I’m not sure they read your column,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said to a writer Wednesday. “Their 7-0 record hasn’t happened against us. It happened in the past. The first six games, do they mean anything? They don’t. It’s down to one game.

“If you’re the Rangers, you hang your hat on that. Well, we haven’t been part of that history. It can be spun both ways. They haven’t done it against our group and our team. When this team has been pushed against the wall, they’ve found an incredible way to push back.”

To a man, the Lightning players seem to shrug off the Game Six loss as a team that simply started chasing too soon and allowed the game to get out of control. Goaltender Ben Bishop was pulled after he allowed his sixth goal, and the 16th of his last three home games.

“I can’t say Ben was a big reason we gave up those goals,” Cooper said. “He did everything he could to keep the puck out of the net. It was the five guys in front of him.”

Yet, as the teams take the ice, the Rangers would seem to have an edge in goal.

“I think he’ll be fine,” said Killorn of Bishop. “I know there was a similar game. Game Four at home against Montreal. They had a few goals you couldn’t blame on Bish. We took him out. The next game he responded well. I don’t think you put the blame on him for any of those goals. It’s the way it worked out.”

Hedman said the key will be to play the entire game. “We have to make sure we know the game is for 60 minutes and not 40,” he said. “We have to bear down and focus on our end. It never stops surprising me how well this team has played when our backs are to the wall.”

These days, the Lightning doesn’t seem to have its backs against the wall.

It has them halfway through it.

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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