Tampa Bay Lightning (+131) at New York Rangers (-145, 5 o/u)
At the start of the season, if you asked any coach in the league, “If we guaranteed you a Game 7 on the road in the Conference Finals, would you take it?”, every coach would say yes.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8), it must be hard to keep that reality in focus. The team had a golden opportunity to book its ticket to the Stanley Cup finals on Tuesday, hosting the New York Rangers (53-22-7) at Amalie Arena, leading three games to two. But the Lightning laid an egg in front of their home fans, getting crushed 7-3 by New York. Now they’ll have to travel to the Big Apple tomorrow (May 29) to face the Rangers at MSG (8:00 PM Eastern).
Making matters worse for Tampa, the Rangers are 4-0 in elimination games this postseason and goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s Game 7 credentials are out of this world.
Lundqvist wound up letting in three goals in Game 6, but two came in the third after New York was already firmly in control. The “King” was tremendous through the first 40 minutes, holding the Lightning to just one goal on 29 shots and allowing the Rangers to take a 2-1 lead into the third.
The Rangers’ offense, meanwhile, finally woke up, with a seven-goal outburst – including five in the final frame. Derick Brassard had a hat-trick to lead the way, while Rick Nash, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, had a goal and three helpers.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was ecstatic with his team’s effort in the clutch. “[I]n 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,” Vigneault said to the Associated Press.
According to Brassard, we shouldn’t expect anything less when the Rangers’ backs are against the wall.
“Every time we’re in an elimination game, that’s the way we play,” Brassard explained to the AP. “We’re just going to go out there at home and try to play our best game.”
The Lightning have beaten the Rangers in seven of the last ten head-to-head, but New York is 15-3 in elimination games since 2012 and 7-0 all-time at home in Game 7s. Lundqvist might, one day, struggle in a Game 7, but I’m not banking on it being tomorrow.
Pick: Rangers (-145).
(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (IMG_4517) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)