A trip to the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals comes down to one game between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The two teams will meet in Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals on Friday, and one team appears to have the distinct advantage.
The first six games of the series have been played very evenly, with just two goals separating the teams, though only two games have been decided by one goal. But there’s a good chance the final game will be close throughout, and that's something that plays in New York’s favor.
The Rangers have made it this far by playing in one-goal games. Their first 13 playoff games were all decided by one goal, as New York went 9-4 during that span. The Rangers might have the best overall team in hockey, but it’s their goalie that’s been most important to their success, and who is likely to carry them to a second straight trip to the finals.
Henrik Lundqvist isn’t only the NHL’s best goalie, but his performances in Game 7 are unparalleled. In the deciding game against the Washington Capitals in the second round, Lundqvist stopped 35 of the 36 shots that came his way, helping to give the Rangers an overtime victory.
Lundqvist’s performance against Washington was no aberration. It marked his sixth consecutive win in a Game 7, allowing 0.84 goals in those games. He saved 179 out of 184 shots in the six contests, which gave him a .973 save percentage. Carey Price led all goalies in the regular season with a .933 save percentage.
The Lightning have been able to get to Lundqvist at certain times in the series. After scoring just one goal in Game 1, they had two consecutive six-goal performances. Tampa Bay was even able to put up three goals in Tuesday’s Game 6 loss, but the five goals surrendered by Ben Bishop didn’t allow the Lightning to close out the series.
Derick Brassard leads the Rangers with 16 points this postseason, and he had a hat trick to lead New York to their Game 6 victory. Tyler Johnson, who has had a breakout performance in the postseason, has been Tampa Bay’s top scorer with 20 points and 12 goals, with his best effort coming in Game 3 when he registered a hat trick of his own.
Home-ice advantage hasn’t been a major factor in this series, as both teams have gone 1-2 in front of their home crowd. Historically, however, New York has been unbeatable in these situations. The Rangers are unbeaten at Madison Square Garden in Game 7’s going 7-0. They’ve won 10 straight games at home when facing elimination.
Because the Rangers are at home and have Lundqvist in net, the odds makers have given them the slight edge. New York is a -155 favorite at Las Vegas sports books, while Tampa Bay is a +140 underdog.
New York has won their last three Game 7’s by the exact score of 2-1. With the way Lundqvist and the defense have played for most of the season, there’s little reason to expect anything different.
Prediction: New York over Tampa Bay, 2-1