TAMPA, FL (AP) – Tampa Bay Lightning’s three-peat offer is alive and well.
With the captain Stephen Stamkos leading, two-time defending champions 2-1 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night, securing a place in the Stanley Cup final for the third year in a row.
“It will be difficult to get out of the moment and look back and realize what a special group we have here, because there are still a few games that need to be played,” Stamkos said. “You are not yet at the end of our goal, but you say that this group is quite amazing and very special.”
Stamkos scored two goals and Andrey Vasilevsky there were 20 saves for Lightning, who won a 4-2 series – winning four straight games after losing the first two on the road – and will face the Colorado Avalanche in the Cup final.
Game 1 is Wednesday night in Denver.
“It’s probably not the best word to use, but I’m very impressed with this group,” said coach John Cooper.
“It’s impressive what they did… I’m just completely impressed with what they’re doing to win a hockey game,” he added. “And the fact that they have all the excuses in the world not to win, because no one would reproach them by saying hey, you won one, you won two and you come back and go for a third. I am impressed.”
Stamkos put Lightning ahead forever in the third period just 21 seconds after New York’s Frank Vatrano scored a goal in a power game with the Tampa Bay captain in the penalty area.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat assisted the winner by more than six minutes until the end, as the puck deviated from Stamkos’ knee in the net after the Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin stopped the initial shot.
Stamkos also scored when hitting the wrist from the top of the right circle in the middle of the second period.
“Obviously I was a little disappointed in myself that I took the penalty… It’s easy to say now, but for some reason I wasn’t as disappointed as I usually am in these situations,” Stamkos said. “I was just confident in our group that we would find a way, whether in the regulations or in the sequels. We deserved to win the match. That was the feeling we had from the fall of the puck. “
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Lightning is the first team to make three consecutive Cup finals since Edmonton made it from 1983-85. They are trying to become the first to win three consecutive championships since the New York Islanders won four consecutive championships in 1980-83.
The Rangers, who lost 3–2 in a series for the third round in a row, were 5–0 in the elimination matches this post-season before Saturday night.
The only teams to win more elimination games in one postseason were the New York Islanders (eight), the 2014 Los Angeles Kings (seven) and the 2003 Minnesota Wild (six).
“It’s difficult right now. But we played well, we fought hard, we had a chance to win all these games, “said Rangers coach Gerard Galant. “They found a way to achieve the great goal in the great time.”
New York missed three of its first four games before winning three straight elimination games to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. He lost the first two away games in Carolina before bouncing back to drive out the Hurricanes in seven games to reach the East Finals.
Saturday night was a different story, with Lightning limiting New York’s goal opportunities as it outscored Rangers 31-21.
Vassilevski went through long distances without being tested. He faced just seven strokes in the opening period, six in the second and eight in the third.
Shesterkin, meanwhile, stopped 29 of 31 shots and made a big save after a big save to give New York a chance.
“I thought Igor was exceptional. He gives us a chance to win every night. We were ahead of many of the matches, but he was exceptional. He was our best player all year and again in this series, “said Galant.
“Shesterkin was amazing. He made some amazing rescues to keep them in it, but I think I just felt a reassuring presence because of the band, “said Stamkos. “It was just one of those nights where whether it was the next shift after that, whether I scored or someone else scored, it was just the feeling that we would finish it.”
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