Say what you want about Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop. Is there a goaltender you’d rather have for a Game 7 than Henrik Lundqvist?
Not if you’re the New York Rangers, who are in the same exact same place they were 16 days ago when they staved off elimination against the Capitals in Game 6 to force a seventh and deciding game at Madison Square Garden.
We all know how that ended. After allowing an early goal to Alex Ovechkin, Lundqvist erected a Swedish wall in front of his net until Derek Stepan won it for the Rangers in overtime.
So how can you expect anything different tonight when the Rangers and Lightning face off to determine who will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final?
The Rangers are 7-0 all-time in Game 7s at the Garden. Lundqvist is 6-1 with an 0.84 goals-against average in seven career Game 7 appearances, including six straight wins, three of them coming against the Caps. He is also 15-3 in 18 elimination games, including a 10-0 record at home.
Unlike their previous series against the Caps, in which each game was decided by one goal, the Rangers and Lightning have had three blowouts in their first six games, with the Rangers winning Games 4 and 6 by four goals, and the Bolts winning by four goals in Game 2.
Each team has also won twice in the other’s building.
So what will tonight’s game bring?
“I have no idea how tonight's game is going to go,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I don't know. I'll be shocked if we're going to see 7-3, 6-5. Just my feeling is when you get down to these late games where everything's on the line, I think the game sometimes stops being played -- I don't want to say -- obviously, both teams are trying to win the game, but both teams seem to play not to screw something up and they wait for the other team to make the mistake.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he’s treating tonight’s game like he would any other, saying it is “just one of many games.”
“I can see how from the outside people could interpret it [as something more] because there is a lot of hype, and it is a do-or-die situation,” Vigneault said. “ But I think as an athlete and a coach, you've got to focus on staying in the moment, and you've got to concentrate on the things that you need to do to have success on the ice, and you can't be disrupted by the noise that's going on the outside. You've just got to stay within your group, stay within your mind, and go out there and execute.”
Cooper, who saw his team beat the Red Wings in seven games to advance to the second round of the playoffs, painted a completely different picture when asked about the magnitude of tonight’s game.
“I don't think it's just another game,” Cooper said. “This is Game 7. You win this game and you're going to go play for the Stanley Cup, so I'm not going to sit here and hide this from our guys saying, ‘Oh, fellas, this is one of 103 or 104 or whatever we're playing.’
“… So I don't want to hide behind the clichés of it's just another game.This is an unreal game to be a part of. You sit back and think -- I said this last night -- guys don't dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 1. You dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 7, and this is Game 7. I don't know. We're excited to play this game.”
And the rest of us are excited to watch. Give us your prediction.