Tampa, Florida – The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final, 2-1, Saturday night to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in a row.
Stephen Stamkos scored both goals to lead the Lightning side to beat the Rangers, who saw a surprising and dramatic end to the playoff in the conference final.
The Lightning is trying to become the first team to run three times as a champion since the New York Islanders in 1983. The Stanley Cup Final between Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche will begin on Wednesday in Denver. Avalanche is seeking its first Stanley Cup since 2001.
The Eastern Conference final was billed as a battle between Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, and Match 6 was a fitting climax. Shesterkin saved 28 saves, many of them spectacular, to keep Rangers in the match.
Meanwhile, Vasilevsky (20 saves) continued his mastery in potentially series decisive matches. He has now racked up 13 wins in his 24 potential playoff series, and has only allowed one goal or less in 11 of those matches.
The first period was goalless thanks to Shesterkin. He had knockouts by Pat Maron and Anthony Cirelli and a fantastic skate save on a swerve from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He worked even more magic in the second half with a massive save by Nikita Kucherov.
Shesterkin made 16 saves before Lightning captain Stephen Stamkos fired a long-range shot from the right board past the goalkeeper’s side. It was the 40th in a playoff for Captain Lightning and eighth in the post-season.
Lightning finished the second half leading 1-0 with a 23-13 shot advantage.
Rangers finally got a chance to play the powerhouse at 2:26 of the third inning. They entered the game with the best conversion rate in the playoffs (31.5%) but had only 3:15 playing time in the previous two games. Lightning wiped out this guy’s advantage – but not New York’s second advantage.
With Stamkos in the penalty area to pin down, Frank Vatrano fired a shot past Vasilevskiy in his fifth qualifying game at 13:07 of the third half.
But Stamkos will respond with his ninth qualifier after just 21 seconds.
Kucherov found Stamkos’ streak in the Rangers’ net with a pass. The puck shot into a Shesterkin’s gauntlet, but the puck shot up into the air and bounced off Stamkos’ leg into the net for a 2-1 lead. The goal was confirmed in a video review by the NHL operating room.
Rangers could not get a tie. Their attack resulted in only one goal in the third consecutive game.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant hinted before Match Six that he could make changes to the squad, and they were plentiful. He knocked out striker Capo Kaku, who finished second in 2019, for the first time in the post-season and replaced him with striker Dryden Hunt. He also broke up the duo of Chris Kreider and Mike Zibanegad, who had cemented the Rangers’ most productive streak in the playoffs.
Lightning lost defender Victor Hedmann at the last 10:45 of the second half after he was hit in the head by Rangers forward Alexis Lavrinier. But Hedman returned to start the third inning.