Lightning advance past Blackhawks to win Eastern finals

Published 3:47 pm Saturday, May 30, 2015

NEW YORK — One thing to count on when the Tampa Bay Lightning play for the Stanley Cup: They won’t be intimidated by anything.

Not by the surroundings after handing the New York Rangers their first Game 7 loss at Madison Square Garden to win the Eastern Conference finals.

Not by having to play in Anaheim or Chicago after taking the last three games in New York and also winning twice in the opening round at Detroit and twice more in Montreal in the second round.

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Not by a series going the limit, because they are 4-1 in Game 7s.

Tampa Bay is also 9-0 when scoring first this postseason.

When the finals open on Wednesday night, the Lightning also will be well rested, and ready for the biggest postseason step of all.

“I think we have a lot of character on this team,” said Tyler Johnson, who leads the playoffs with 21 points. “I think we have a lot of resilience and a lot of pride. When you get spanked the way we got spanked (in a 7-3 loss in Game 6), you are not too happy with yourself and you have to change things. For whatever reason we were able to do that as a team.”

Johnson’s line, with Ondrej Palat, who scored the second goal in Friday night’s 2-0 victory, and Nikita Kucherov is one reason. Another is Ben Bishop, who always seems to rebound from poor performances with stellar ones. He got his second straight shutout at the Garden with 22 saves against the Rangers.

“Anytime you can play for the Stanley Cup, it’s pretty fulfilling,” Bishop noted. “We said after the game we still haven’t accomplished anything yet.

“We’re four wins away, it’s going to be probably the hardest four wins of all of our careers. We know there’s a lot ahead of us.”

What’s ahead will be an opponent the Lightning fared well against. Tampa swept Anaheim, 5-3 and 4-1, and split with Chicago, losing a shootout on the road, 3-2, then beat the Blackhawks in Tampa, 4-0.