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Steven Stamkos scored two goals, and the Lightning beat the Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final to advance to the Stanley Cup final for the third consecutive season.
The Lightning became the first team since the Oilers of 1983-85 to advance to three consecutive Cup finals. They will play the Western Conference champion Avalanche starting Wednesday in Colorado.
The Lightning became the third different franchise to win 11 or more playoff series in a row, joining the New York Islanders (19 from 1980-84) and Montreal Canadiens (13 from 1976-80).
Stamkos’ game-winner came with 6:32 remaining, just 21 seconds after Frank Vatrano tied the game with a power-play goal. Ironically, the Rangers were on the man-advantage because Stamkos had been penalized for holding Alexis Lafreniere.
Stamkos opened the scoring midway through the second period on a long-distance shot from above the right circle.
With the Lightning playing a strong defensive game in front of him, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t tested often, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced.
Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves in a losing effort.
Here’s how it happened:
Victor Hedman is back on the ice for the Lightning, but Ryan Strome is missing from the Rangers bench
Brandon Hagel sharp-angle shot saved by Igor Shesterkin
Corey Perry penalized for high-sticking Filip Chytil on an attempted stick lift, and the Rangers get their first power play (17:35 to play)
Mika Zibanejad one-timer goes off Erik Cernak into the corner
Cernak blocks a shot with his right hand and clears the puck out of the zone before going to the bench
Sergachev forces a Chytil giveaway at the blue line
Cernak leaves for the dressing room
Jan Rutta sends the puck out along the boards
Lightning kill the penalty
Shesterkin stops Hagel down low
Vasilevskiy stops Trouba and Copp in quick succession
Hagel shot goes over the net
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Cirelli wrist shot saved by Shesterkin
Sergachev wrist shot saved by Shesterkin, who freezes the puck
Cernak back on the ice
Trouba shot from right point blocked by Vasilevskiy
Centering pass of skate of Trouba knocked away by Shesterkin
Stamkos penalized for holding Lafreniere (8:15 to play)
Strome is out for the rest of the game with a lower-body injury
Zibanejad blast from center point misses wide
Fox shot hits a body in front
Kreider tip of Zibanejad shot tipped just wide
Nick Paul has shorthanded breakaway but can’t get a shot off as Fox stays with him
Vasilevskiy makes right arm save on Zibanejad shot from left circle
RANGERS GOAL: Vatrano sores on power play low on glove side with shot from above left circle after Copp faceoff win with 6:53 to play. Lightning 1, Rangers 1.
LIGHTNING GOAL! Stamkos scores when puck goes off his leg after Shesterkin saves his first stop from low in the slot after pass from Kucherov. Lightning 2, Rangers 1.
Rangers pull Shesterkin for an extra attacker
Copp shot deflected into the corner
Panarin shot from left point stopped by Vasilevskiy
Panarin shot blocked by Sergachev
Zibanejad blast from left circle wide of net. Partial block by Sergachev
Vasilevskiy makes pad save on Zibanejad
(Lightning win 2-1, win series 4-2)
Cirelli drove to the net, but Shesterkin makes glove save on backhand attempt from in tight
Hedman blast from left point blocked by Ryan Lindgren
Shesterkin robs Nikita Kucherov from low in the left circle
Braden Schneider shot blocked by Mikhail Sergachev
Jacob Trouba knocks Corey Perry to the ice with a high hit, setting off a short skirmish. Perry didn’t have the puck, so it should have been an interference penalty, but nothing is called
Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Rooney receive matching roughing penalties, and we’ll have two minutes of 4-on-4 play
Kucherov cross-ice pass hops over Stamkos’ stick
Both players are out of the penalty box
Artemi Panarin shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Sergachev shot blocked by Trouba
Sergachev wrist shot saved by Shesterkin
Cirelli quick shot from left circle misses wide
Alexis Lafreniere blocks Ross Colton shot
Hedman smashes his stick into the boards in frustration after being clipped in the chin by Lafreniere
Pat Maroon skates to the front of the net but is stopped by Shesterkin
Hedman leaves for the locker room
LIGHTNING GOAL! Steven Stamkos scores on a wrist shot from top of right circle that goes around Ryan Lindgren’s legs and under the pad and over the blocker of Shesterkin. Lightning 1, Rangers 0 (9:17 left in period)
Zach Bogosian backhander stopped by Shesterkin
Artemi Panarin penalized for high-sticking Erik Cernak in the mouth, putting Lightning on the power play for the first time
Stamkos doesn’t get much wood on a one-timer from the left circle
Rangers kill the penalty
Shesterkin stops point-blank shot from Palat
Killorn drives to the front of the net but is stopped by Shesterkin
Killorn shap shot saved by Shesterkin
Trouba shot saved by Vasilevskiy
(Lightning lead 1-0 after two periods)
Alexis Lafreniere shot saved by Andrei Vasilevskiy
Anthony Cirelli deflection saved by Igor Shesterkin
Victor Hedman shot blocked by Mika Zibanejad
Hedman shot from left point misses wide
Jan Rutta shot blocked by Jacob Trouba
Andrew Copp shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Pat Maroon tip from just outside crease saved by Shesterkin after Riley Nash bats down Shesterkin clearing attempt above the right circle
Anthony Cirelli shot blocked by Frank Vatrano
Alex Killorn tips Ryan McDonagh shot up over the net
Vatrano shot saved by Vasilevskiy
Steven Stamkos backhander from sharp angle saved by Shesterkin
Nick Paul shot from the right wing on 3-on-2 wide of the net
Erik Cernak shot blocked into the corner by Braden Schneider
Filip Chytil backhander stopped by Vasilevskiy
Chytil one-timer from the point wide of the net
Nash shot from right circle saved by Shesterkin
Steven Stamkos one-timer from left circle hits post
Brandon Hagel snap shot saved by Shesterkin
Mikhail Sergachev blast from left point wide of net
Zach Bogosian shot blocked by K’Andre Miller
Shesterkin makes left skate save on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare tip of Hedman shot
Ross Colton misses wide
Ondrej Palat shot from slot blocked by Miller
Chris Kreider drive from left point deflected into the netting
Ryan Lindgren wrist shot from left point wide of net
Colton runs over Adam Fox at the Lightning blue line
Lafreniere shot blocked by Hedman
Lafreniere backhand down low saved by Vasilevskiy
Cernak hits Schneider along the boards
Killorn shoots wide
Panarin shot from top of slot saved by Vasilevskiy
Shesterkin makes left pad save on Cirelli backhand at point-blank range after Hagel sent him in alone with just under a minute left in the period
(Lightning, Rangers tied 0-0 after one period)
Pregame scouting report
It hasn’t happened often over the past three seasons, but every once in a while a team gets a chance to knock the Lightning out of the playoffs.
If they don’t take advantage of it, well, it’s the only shot they get.
The Islanders had opportunities in 2020 and ‘21. The Maple Leafs had one in Round 1. And the Rangers had their shot in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, up two games in the series and two goals in the game.
They failed to close out the game and now find themselves on the cusp of elimination, while the Lightning need just one win in the next two games to clinch a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup final.
Is the series over? Not yet. Is it tilting precipitously in the Bolts’ direction? You bet.
The Lightning know how to close out a playoff series, because they created their own blueprint while winning 10 over the past three seasons. The Rangers’ best chance was to knock out the Bolts out early, while they were shaking the rust from an extended layoff and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was trying to regain his rhythm.
The Lightning turned things around in the second half of Game 2 by limiting giveaways, playing better defense and staying out of the penalty box. And while the final scores haven’t always reflected it, it’s been a pretty one-sided series ever since, particularly during 5-on-5 play.
Will the Lightning get the Rangers’ best effort tonight, with their season on the line? Maybe. But they might already have gotten it in Game 5, with New York playing on home ice, where it had won eight straight, and needing a win to regain control of a series that seemed to be slipping from its grasp.
What’s more likely is the Lightning sense the opportunity in front of them — a chance to advance and compete for a third straight Cup — and adopt the closer’s mentality that helped them to titles the past two postseasons.
It doesn’t mean it will happen, but the odds are in their favor. Even against a team that is 5-0 in elimination games this postseason.
Will the Bolts lock things down defensively and close out the Rangers either tonight in Tampa or Tuesday in New York? We’ve seen it before. They’re 8-2 in series when leading three games to two. Chances are, we’ll see it again.
Follow our live updates, starting at 8 p.m., as the Lightning get the first of two chances to put away the Rangers and advance to a third straight Cup final and fourth in eight seasons.
Game night scene
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