NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Lightning booked a Stanley Cup Finals berth with a tense 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday, the visitors breaking home goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s Game Seven dominance to claim the Eastern Conference championship.
Lundqvist had won the last six series-deciding showdowns he had played for New York but third-period goals by Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat ended that National Hockey League record run by the Swede and silenced the Madison Square Garden crowd.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop stopped all 22 shots from the Rangers, withstanding an all-out assault in the final minutes, while Lundqvist saved 23 in the defensive battle.
Tampa Bay will meet either the Anaheim Ducks or the Chicago Blackhawks, who play a Game Seven decider of their own on Saturday for the Western Conference title.
“They just answer the challenge,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said about his young team, beaten 7-3 with a chance to end the series in Game Six in Florida.
The Lightning, who led the NHL in goals during the season, played ferocious defense to register their fifth victory in six games at the Garden this season.
“You shine the light bright on our guys, they’ll just put on sunglasses and walk right through it,” Cooper said. “It’s unreal how they respond.”
After two pressure-packed, scoreless periods, Lightning center Killorn opened the scoring just two minutes into the third.
Spinning off the wall and skating toward the middle, Killorn flicked a backhand through a crowd that trickled past a sprawling Lundqvist on the glove side.
“The puck had eyes and went through a couple of bodies and went through Hank (Lundqvist), so that turned out to be the winner,” a dejected Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Tampa Bay delivered the hammer blow nine minutes later when Tyler Johnson raced up the right and delivered the puck perfectly to Palat, who buried it past Lundqvist.
“I think we all felt that the (first) goal was going to be extremely important,” Lundqvist lamented. “Unfortunately, I never saw it until it was too late.”
The Lightning will be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in their 22-year existence, having beaten Calgary to win the NHL title in 2004.
It was a gut-wrenching loss for the Rangers, who had the best regular season record, after losing in the Finals last year to the Los Angeles Kings.
The best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals series begins on Wednesday.
Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien