NEW YORK — It’s just another game. Or it’s a winner-take-all Game 7.
Those were the differing opinions coming from both sides of Madison Square Garden today while preparing for the deciding game of the NHL Eastern Conference finals (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
The New York Rangers, who have been there and done that plenty of times in recent seasons, have won six consecutive Game 7s. So the approach coming from their perspective was that it’s just playoff game No. 19.
“I can see how from the outside people could interpret it (as a monumental game) because there is a lot of hype, and it is a do-or-die situation,’’ New York head coach Alain Vigneault said. “But I think as an athlete and a coach, you’ve got to focus on staying in the moment, and you’ve got to concentrate on the things that you need to do to have success on the ice. You can’t be disrupted by the noise that’s going on the outside. You’ve just got to stay within your group, stay within your mind, and go out there and execute.’’
While the Tampa Bay Lightning also stressed trying to stay in the moment and focus on their job at hand, they also pointed out that there is no sense sugarcoating the importance of the game by trying to downplay it.
“I don’t think it’s just another game. ... This is Game 7,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “You win this game and you’re going to go play for the Stanley Cup, so I’m not going to sit here and hide this from our guys saying ‘Oh, fellas, this is one of 103 or 104’ or whatever we’re playing.
“So I don’t want to hide behind the clichés of it’s just another game. This is an unreal game to be a part of.’’
Injury, illness updates
C Cedric Paquette took part in today’s optional morning skate, the second consecutive day he has taken part in a practice after missing Game 6 with an undisclosed injury (believed to be with his right arm or wrist after blocking a shot in Game 5).
Paquette made it through the full practice in Tampa on Thursday and came off the ice with the regular group of starters during this morning’s skate.
“I feel better than I did two days ago,’’ Paquette said. “The extra day off helped me, so hopefully I’ll be able to play.’’
In addition to Paquette’s injury, several players were also reportedly hit by some sort of stomach or flu virus in the two days leading up to Game 6. D Braydon Coburn missed the final two periods of Game 5 with an ailment, while rumors of others being affected during Game 6 surfaced on the day of the game.
But two days off between games has given Tampa Bay time to try and rid the team of the virus.
“We’re good, all good today,’’ Cooper said. “We’re going to be in a heck of a lot better shape than we were the other night.’’
Experience helps preparation
Both Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and D Victor Hedman are making their second appearance in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Having gone through the same situation in 2011 heading on the road against Boston, can provide some insight into the approach for the this time around.
“You feel the emotions but it’s completely different circumstances than they are now,’’ Stamkos said. “But you just draw back on what it took to get to this point and how many years it took to get back here, so you never know in this sport. But you are more comfortable now in this situation. In 2011, it was my first experience going that far, so I know what to expect now.
“Every shift can be a difference-maker in a game, the sacrifice that you have to be willing to make. It’s all the same stuff all over again.’’
For Hedman, who was in his second year in the NHL in 2011, the run up to that conference final against Boston didn’t stand out.
“I don’t even remember what I did on game day for Game 7 in Boston,’’ Hedman said. “But it’s been four years, it’s been a long time, and you are always anxious to get back into these playoffs and to play these games where you are one win away to play for a Stanley Cup, it’s a pretty special feeling.’’
What Game 7 mystique?
Tampa Bay C Brian Boyle played for Rangers teams that enjoyed success in Game 7 situations the previous few seasons, including at Madison Square Garden.
Having been a part of it gives the veteran forward a unique perspective on how that works in New York’s favor. But he doesn’t exactly buy into the fact that New York’s past history ensures a Lightning loss.
“Do you think I buy it? What am I doing here if I buy it? Why would I fly up from Florida if I bought it?’’ said Boyle, who signed as a free agent with the Lightning before this season. “They’ve obviously had success in Game 7, (but) it’s a new year.’’