So now the Rangers come home Friday, throw their blue jerseys on the ice, wave to Liam Neeson and win Game 7. The Lightning surrenders meekly, to become just another small part of a remarkable record streak, like a squib single from Joe DiMaggio in the spring or summer of 1941.
The Rangers have done this seven straight times at the Garden, always pulling out Game 7s without much problem, and No. 8 is surely on the way. Cue the winning goal by Derick Brassard, the improbable saves by Henrik Lundqvist, then the humble handshake line. The Bolts bolt back to the hinterlands.
It’s that simple, right?
Except, of course, it isn’t. The Lightning coach, Jon Cooper, made that abundantly clear on Wednesday, told reporters that his team was not a mere domino to be toppled on a rink.
“Their 7-0 record, or whatever it is, that hasn’t happened against us,” Jon Cooper said defiantly, in Tampa. “There was some other stat that was out there that Lundqvist had some record in his Game 5, 6 and 7s, and we found a way to break that in Game 5.
“Maybe for the Rangers, you get to hang your hat on that,” Cooper said. “We haven’t been a part of that history, so it doesn’t affect us. They haven’t done it against our group and our team, and we’ve got a pretty young, confident group. When we’ve been pushed against the wall, we’ve found an unbelievable way to push back. We’re looking for that again on Friday.”
Cooper sounded ready for a fight at the Garden, whether it is with pillows or machetes. There has been nothing predictable about the previous six games of the Eastern Conference finals. Nobody in the world — not Cooper, not Alain Vigneault — can really tell you how this next game is going to be played out, or decided.
The Rangers are 1-2 at the Garden, 2-1 on the road. They have won high-scoring Games 4 and 6, but lost high-scoring Games 2 and 3. They have won low-scoring Game 1, but lost low-scoring Game 5. If there is a pattern to any of that, please inform the players, who would like to know what to expect.
“Everything that’s happened before this point, it doesn’t really matter,” Derek Stepan said, before heading back to New York. “We’re looking at it as one game against a team that’s played really good hockey through the series, both teams have. And I think both teams feel like at times they haven’t played as well. So it’s been a back-and-forth series, but now it just comes down to one game.”
Fun to watch, but also frightening for any Ranger supporter who again finds himself walking on an emotional ledge.
That fan can take some comfort in the cuddly seventh-game stat, and in knowing that the Rangers are tougher to kill than a deer tick. At the same time, there is the nagging notion that home teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs own only a 13-12 edge in Game 7s over the past five years, a statistically insignificant advantage. And that the Rangers have appeared more confident at times this spring on the road.
Which Ben Bishop (l.) will show up for the Lightning – the one that dominates the Rangers or the one that was pulled out of Game 6?
“We show up to play every time on the road,” said Brassard, a Game 6 hero at Amalie Arena. “It seems like we don’t have anyone to impress. Maybe at home we’re trying to impress our fans or we’re trying to impress people.
“We just have to show up Friday and play the same way, be confident,” Brassard said. “The fans are going to be loud. The atmosphere’s going to be great, and we just have to take those emotions and put it in a good way.”
They’ve done it in the past, seven straight times. Here comes another chance to add to one of the more remarkable records in hockey.
The Rangers are supposedly unbeatable in these games. The high-skill, high-risk Lightning doesn’t want to hear about it.
The toughest part of all: Waiting an extra off day, before we find out who is right.
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