TAMPA, Fla. - Forget the score. This was a tale of two games in one night.

Thanks to Henrik Lundqvist's 28 saves, the Rangers emerged after 40 minutes of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night clinging to a one-goal lead.

In many cases, the accepted strategy -- especially in a playoff elimination game -- would be to tighten the defense and hope for the opportunity to score an insurance goal.

StatsGame 6 boxscore

Instead, the Rangers attacked, scoring five goals in the third period -- including three in 4:12 to blow the game open -- and routed the Lightning, 7-3, to force a Game 7 showdown at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

"Between the second and third, we talked about not sitting back and making more plays with the puck," coach Alain Vigneault said. "With our season on the line, we came out and probably played our best period of the series so far."

Besides Lundqvist, the undisputed heroes were Derick Brassard, with a hat trick and career-high five points, and linemates Rick Nash and J.T. Miller, who each had a goal and three assists. The trio totaled 13 points.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I was really disappointed in my last game," said Brassard, who leads the team in goals and points. "Miller has really energized our line and Nash was a beast."

The hat trick for Brassard -- who scored the opening goal at 3:36 of the first period and the final one, an empty-netter with 1:41 remaining -- was the first for the Rangers in the playoffs since Michael Nylander in 2007 against Atlanta.

"Everything on the line again and we found a way," said Lundqvist, who is 15-3 in elimination games. "We had a really tough time in the second to get pucks deep and they're a really good team when you don't get the pucks in the right places. But in the third, our experience in these situations helped us because we came out and played extremely well, a smart period until it got out of hand a little bit."

The period began with some excellent shifts, and Miller scored on a rebound at 3:02. "It was not taking our foot off the gas," Nash said. "Tampa's a really skilled offensive team that if you sit back, they're going to take it to you. Getting that third goal was huge."

Nash scored a power-play goal from in close on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who replaced goalie Ben Bishop after Brassard's second goal made it 5-1 at 7:14 of the third.

Nikita Kucherov's two goals made the score slightly more respectable.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time the Rangers -- who are 12-3 in Game 6 or Game 7 since the 2012 playoffs -- registered at least five goals in a period of a playoff game since they scored six in the third period of Game 5 of the semifinals against Philadelphia in 1979.

But overall, Lundqvist's performance in the first and second periods -- including some brilliant stops on Steven Stamkos with his glove and left pad and on Ryan Callahan with the knob of his stick -- was the major confidence boost for the Rangers, who have won six of the last nine elimination games on the road.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

They will need another superb effort at home to qualify for the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season.

"There's no quit in this group," said Keith Yandle, whose wrister through traffic provided a 2-0 lead in the first period. "You look at all the guys who have been here a while and been through things like this. They're battle-tested."