They will advance to play either the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks, depending on the outcome of Saturday's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Tampa Bay last reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, when it won for the first time in franchise history.
Tampa Bay prevailed in a low-scoring affair that was dominated by two stellar goaltending performances and stifling defense. The Rangers played at a disadvantage in the latter area early on -- defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh missed the first ten minutes of the game with a lingering foot injury. Thanks to excellent play by goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers weathered the early storm.
However, the Lightning were the better team throughout the first two periods. There's a reason why Lundqvist made more than a couple highlight-reel worthy saves -- the Rangers were under pressure in the defensive zone all night. New York received two gifts in the second period, though. Brenden Morrow was the victim of an iffy hooking penalty, and the Lightning were also penalized for too many men on the ice. However, the Rangers were unable to take advantage of either power play.
That ultimately bit them when the Lightning finally broke through Lundqvist early in the third period. Alex Killorn slipped a shot through Lundqvist's pads at 1:54 to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
The Lightning struck again midway through the period when Ondrej Palat skated down the wing and fired one over Lundqvist's left shoulder.
That 2-0 score held and the Lightning booked their trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
3 things we learned
1. Tampa Bay played its best defensive game of the series
Every time the Rangers slipped two defenders entering the zone, a Lightning defender or two was there to break up the play before he could get a shot on net. The Lightning kept New York's shots to the perimeter and played their opponents tight all over the ice. That the Rangers had such a low shot total in a Game 7 is a testament to Tampa Bay's commitment to responsible hockey in its own end.
2. Ben Bishop is as unpredictable as ever
Bishop has spent all playoffs alternating between great nights and routs, and the Eastern Conference Finals were no different. A Game 5 shutout was followed by a six-goal deluge in Game 6 before Bishop shut out the Rangers again in Game 7. Goaltending will be an area of interest, if not concern, for the Lightning in the Final.
3. New York's splendid season falls short
Further proof the President's Trophy doesn't mean squat, huh? The Rangers might have been the most successful team in the regular season and most of the postseason, but they met their offensive and defensive match in Tampa Bay this series. Fans shouldn't be discouraged; there's no reason to think they won't be back soon, if not next year.