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Rangers, Lightning enter Game 7

The New York Rangers are all about Game 7. New York seemingly lives for these do-or-die games in the recent playoffs, something that certainly gives both the team and its fans confidence heading into Friday’s night tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden.

New York has never lost a Game 7 in the Garden, winning one in the last round against the Washington Capitals in overtime. In 2012, the Rangers twice had to stave off elimination at home in a Game 7, taking down the Ottawa Senators and Washington before ultimately falling to the New Jersey Devils in six games. In 2013, New York once again beat the Capitals in a Game 7 in the quarterfinals. Last year, New York reached the Stanley Cup Finals but only after dispatching the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7’s over the first two rounds.

Of course, the Lightning care about none of this. Tampa Bay faced a Game 7 in the quarterfinals and shut out the Detroit Red Wings to move on. Goaltender Ben Bishop was great that night, and plans to be once again. The Lightning are a tougher foe for New York than all those above teams, combining a lethal amount of speed and skill. It would be anything but stunning if Tampa Bay walks away with the Prince of Wales trophy and hits the street of Manhattan for a night cap.

Yet, the Rangers live for this moment. This is a battle-hardened team, something Tampa Bay can’t say for itself. Yes, the Lightning have won some huge games to get to this point, but New York has been doing this high-wire act for years with the same group, relatively speaking. Four times, the Rangers have faced elimination in these playoffs, including one instance where Henrik Lundqvist had to be pulled in a desperate attempt to stay alive. They won all four games.

Tampa Bay must score first in this contest. While it doesn’t secure a win by any stretch, it will calm the nerves and quiet the Garden faithful. Depending on the time of the goal, it could also force New York to open up and play a more aggressive game, something the Lightning would love to see.

When watching this game, key on the flow of the puck. If you see a lot of dump-ins and checking, the game is favoring the Rangers. However, if the contest is fast-paced and the passes are quick and across the middle, Tampa Bay has the decisive upper hand.

There are few things better in sports than the words Game 7. It adds an air of panic, magnifying even the smallest details.

On Friday night, two teams will put their hopes and dreams on the line. One will be jolted awake.

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