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Penguins

Tampa Bay has history of success in Game 7

| Wednesday, May 25, 2016, 6:57 p.m.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save during the second period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save during the second period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
The Penguins' Nick Bonino fights for the puck with the Lightning's Anton Stralman during the third period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
Chaz Palla | | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Nick Bonino fights for the puck with the Lightning's Anton Stralman during the third period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Lightning have aced their share of tests the past two playoff seasons.

One more exam needs to be passed to reach a second consecutive Final.

All that stands between Tampa Bay and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is picking up a road victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.

“We've played a lot of hockey the past two years, 40-plus games in the playoffs,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said before the team boarded a charter flight Wednesday bound for Pittsburgh. “I feel we've been through so many different tests. This is just another one, and this is an in-the-moment test because the game's ahead of us. So it's not something we haven't seen before, but it is definitely something we're going to have to show up for.”

Last year, the Lightning were in a similar situation, having lost Game 6 at home to the New York Rangers to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. With all the odds seemingly stacked in favor of New York, which never had lost a Game 7 at home and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist never had lost a Game 7 in his career, the Lightning skated away with a 2-0 victory.

“What I like about our team is that the bigger the test, the bigger the response we have,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “Just like last year, we were in the exact same spot. I think we feel pretty comfortable about it. We know what we can do, and we know what we have to do. It will be a fun game tomorrow night.”

This will be the third Game 7 for Tampa Bay in the past two playoffs seasons. The Lightning won both last season with the same 2-0 result against Detroit in the first round before moving past the Rangers.

Tampa Bay also holds a 5-1 all-time record in Game 7s, allowing a total of three goals, with the only loss coming in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals to Boston. That was the same season the Lightning beat the Penguins in Game 7 in the opening round.

Stralman, who never has lost in seven Game 7 appearances during his career, said the key is to have a grasp of the situation and enjoy the opportunity.

“I don't think you can play to your potential if you're not embracing it and just have fun with it and enjoying it instead of putting a lot of pressure on yourself and all that stuff,” said Stralman, one of six players in NHL history to win seven consecutive Game 7s.

“You play at your best when you don't think too much and just go out and play hockey like you have for a lot of years. Enjoy it.”

Finding the fun under all the stress is a test itself.

“When you sit back and you think in training camp, and if I told the guys in May, we're going to play a one-gamer so you have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, I think all the guys would have been pretty fired up to play that game,” Cooper said. “So I don't think we need to be stressed about that. I think we need to have fun with it, and when the game's over, just walk by the mirror and look at it and say, did you give it your best shot? If the answer's yes, let the chips fall where they lie.”

Erik Erlendsson is a freelance writer.

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