TAMPA, Fla (AP) — Steven Stamkos scored two goals and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning heads to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third straight year after beating the New York Rangers 2-1 in the game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final Saturday night.
Stamkos put the Lightning ahead for good in the third period just 21 seconds after New York’s Frank Vatrano scored on the power play with the Lightning captain in the box for holding.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat assisted the winner with 6 1/2 minutes left, the puck deflecting off Stamkos’ knee into the net after Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin stopped the initial shot. Stamkos also scored on a wrist shot from the top of the right circle midway through the second period.
Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 20 saves for the Lightning, who won the series 4-2 – winning four straight after losing the first two games on the road – to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Avalanche. Colorado.
Game 1 is Wednesday night in Denver.
The Lightning are the first team to make three straight Cup Final appearances since Edmonton did from 1983-1985. They are trying to become the first to win three consecutive championships since the New York Islanders won one. won four in a row from 1980 to 1983.
The Rangers, down 3-2 in a series for the third straight round, were 5-0 in playoff games this postseason heading into Saturday night.
The only teams to win six or more playoff games in a single postseason were the 1975 New York Islanders (eight), the 2014 Los Angeles Kings (seven), and the 2003 Minnesota Wild (six).
The Rangers lost three of the first four games before winning three straight playoff games to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. They lost the first two on the road in Carolina before bouncing back to oust the Hurricanes in seven games to reach the Eastern Finals.
It was a totally different story on Saturday night, with the Lightning limiting New York’s scoring opportunities while outscoring the Rangers 31-21.
Vasilevskiy went long periods without being tested. He faced only seven shots in the first period, six in the second and eight in the third.
Shesterkin, meanwhile, stopped 29 of 31 shots and made big save after big save to give New York a chance.
NOTES: The Lightning played again without forward Brayden Point, who has missed 10 games since suffering a lower-body injury in Tampa Bay’s Game 7 win over Toronto in the first round. He was the NHL’s top scorer in the previous two playoff series. … Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman came off in the second period after appearing to be elbowed in the head by New York’s Alexis Lafrenière. He came back early in the third period.
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