TAMPA, Fla. — A treacherous lightning and thunderstorm engulfed the Tampa Bay area all day Saturday and headed for the ice at Amalie Arena to wash away the Rangers.
The Lightning hit Rangers the same way they have their last 10 straight playoff opponents, drowning the visitors in all three areas and riding a two-goal performance from captain Steven Stamkos to hand the Rangers a 2-0 loss. 1 who ended their season in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay is now heading to its third straight Stanley Cup Final, where the Avalanche await.
With a goal six minutes from the end of their season, Rangers earned a critical power play. Andrew Copp won the faceoff and Frank Vatrano had a one-timer that passed Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the game.
Exactly 21 seconds later, however, Stamkos netted his second goal of the night with a hard kick to the net to zap any momentum Rangers might have had on the equalizer.
The Rangers’ 2-0 series lead was erased as quickly as it was built, with the Lightning winning four straight to prove they were simply the better team.
And that’s how it goes sometimes, isn’t it? The Lightning are the back-to-back defending champions and are aiming for a hat-trick. The Rangers, meanwhile, secured their first legitimate playoff spot in five years and went on their longest run since 2015, when they also lost to the Lightning.
But Rangers let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers by not winning Game 3 or Game 4. It was their moment to seize it, and they didn’t. Now they return to New York empty-handed after one of the most extraordinary seasons in recent memory.
Their back-to-back seven-game streak in Rounds 1 and 2 finally caught up with Rangers, who gradually slowed as the conference finals continued. The Lightning’s rest period, awaiting the end of the Rangers-Hurricanes series after sweeping the Panthers in four games, fueled their legs just in time.
It was evident in the way the Rangers often struggled to stay on their skates and resorted to throwing their bodies to try and contain Tampa Bay in Saturday’s loss. And despite a heroic effort from Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, whose 28 saves were the only reason the game didn’t spiral out of control, the rest of his side couldn’t muster any attacking support – as it’s trending for the blue shirts all season.
Stamkos opened the scoring just over halfway through the second period, when he caught Shesterkin off guard with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle on the run.
Rangers were down to 11 forwards in the third period, after Ryan Strome went to the locker room with a lower-body injury that had clearly plagued him for some time. Strome left midway through pre-match warm-ups before returning and eventually getting ready for the game, while Kaapo Kakko was scratched for the first time this season. As a result, Dryden Hunt entered the roster for the first time since Game 3 of the first round against the Penguins.
If Kakko was healthy, going with Hunt and an injured Strome above second overall pick in 2019 was a particular choice for Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant.
The Lightning controlled the pace for most of the game, knocking out almost every puck Rangers had and taking them for themselves. It felt like Rangers were getting water every time they were in their own half, and the only hole for air was provided by Shesterkin, who was the only reason the game was scoreless before the first intermission.
Shesterkin made a terrific toe save on a deflection from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare that would have slipped inside the post. He also blocked Anthony Cirelli on a partial breakaway after the Lightning’s second-line center got behind the Rangers defense late in the period.
But if your best player on the ice is your goalie, it will very rarely end in a win.
New York Post