The Rangers gather around Derick Brassard (second from l.) to celebrate his hat trick as the Blueshirts stay alive and force a deciding Game 7 with the Lightning Friday night at the Garden.
TAMPA — The Rangers never say die, and now they’re heading home for what they hope will be more seventh heaven.
Once again with their backs against the wall, the Rangers were led by a tremendous group effort from the top line and 36 saves by Henrik Lundqvist to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final Tuesday over the Lightning, 7-3, leveling the series 3-3.
The Rangers broke open a 2-1 game with five goals in the third period.
Tampa Bay finished off Montreal at home in six games last round, avoiding a trip back to Montreal. But this time it couldn’t finish the job, and now the Rangers will host Game 7 Friday night at Madison Square Garden, where they are 7-0 all-time in Game 7s. They’ve also won 10 straight elimination games at MSG. The Rangers are now 15-3 in elimination games since the start of the 2012 playoffs, including 4-0 this season. They’ve won nine of their last 10 such games. The seven goals were the most the Rangers have scored over those 18 elimination games.
Derick Brassard had a hat trick and two assists, Rick Nash scored a power-play goal and had three assists and J.T. Miller scored his first goal of the playoffs and had three assists. Brassard leads the team with eight goals and 15 points in the playoffs.
Brassard put the Rangers on the board at 3:36 on the team’s first shot of the game. He won and offensive-zone faceoff to begin the play. Boyle’s pass from the blue line was blocked, but Miller was able to grab ahold of the loose puck and feed Brassard, who snuck behind ex-Ranger Anton Stralman. Brassard went to his backhand and beat Ben Bishop — who was pulled in the third period — five-hole for his seventh goal of the playoffs, which is tied with Chris Kreider for the team lead.
Lundqvist faced a firing squad in the first period, seeing 16 shots over the opening 20 minutes. At 14:14 with Tampa Bay on a power play, Steven Stamkos got the puck right in front but couldn’t lift it, and Lundqvist made a spectacular left-pad save coming across goal.
One minute, 16 seconds later, Keith Yandle’s shot from the left point off a point-to-point pass from Brassard snuck by bodies in the slot and got by Bishop over his left shoulder to double the Rangers lead. Originally the goal was awarded to Miller as the puck came close to his stick in the slot, but during the first intermission the scoring was changed to credit Yandle with the goal, his second of the playoffs.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper had essentially guaranteed the morning of Game 5 that Ryan Callahan would score later that night. It turned out he was one game off. Callahan took a Stralman stretch pass on a power play, beat a flat-footed Ryan McDonagh and finished a breakaway backhanded to beat Lundqvist stick-side at 17:20. Lundqvist had saved the first 15 Lightning shots.
A jolt from the top line ended up getting them another power play at 17:20, and nine seconds later a Brassard shot snuck through Bishop’s legs, hit the left post and died right in front of it. Jason Garrison was able to pin the puck to Bishop for a stoppage.
The Rangers put themselves back up by two at 3:02 of the third. Brassard stole the puck from Stamkos and sprung Nash and Miller on a two-on-one. Brassard came in for a shot that was saved, but he picked up the rebound behind the net and fed Miller in front for the goal.
James Sheppard scored his first goal of the playoffs at 6:00 to make it 4-1. At 7:14 Nash muscled Andrej Sustr off the puck and left a drop-pass for Miller, whose cross-ice pass was finished by Brassard. That prompted Cooper to pull Bishop for rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy for the second time this postseason.
Nikita Kucherov scored at 7:50 to cut the lead back to three, but Nash finished off a Yandle rebound at 10:41 to make it 6-2. Kucherov scored again at 13:21. Brassard scored an empty-netter with 1:41 left.
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