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Lightning-Rangers Game 6 report card: Staying composed

By playing with discipline and waiting for its chances, Tampa Bay advances to a third straight Stanley Cup final.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) skates to the bench after being hit in the second period Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) skates to the bench after being hit in the second period Saturday at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 12|Updated Jun. 12

Victor Hedman was heated.

The veteran defenseman smashed his stick into the boards in front of the Lightning bench, snapping off the blade, then yelled at referee Chris Rooney as he left the ice. He was understandably upset after being hit in the jaw by the Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere with no penalty called midway through the second period Saturday at Amalie Arena.

Hedman was even less happy when he had to leave for the dressing room at the behest of the concussion spotter, slamming the door behind him and stalking off down the runway.

He had the look of a man who would run Lafreniere through the boards the next time he saw him on the ice.

Hedman and his teammates were frustrated with the no-call and even more by the loss of the top defenseman and former Norris Trophy winner for the remainder of the period. But they stayed composed in all the ways that mattered in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.

They stuck to their structure, managed the puck, played with discipline, waited for their chances and clamped down defensively once they got the lead in a 2-1, series-clinching victory.

It was the same formula they’ve followed to 11 consecutive postseason series victories, becoming the third different franchise to win 11 or more playoff series in a row, joining the Islanders (19 from 1980-84) and Canadiens (13 from 1976-80).

With their most complete game of the postseason, the Lightning advanced to a third straight Stanley Cup final and fourth in eight seasons, becoming the first team since the Oilers of 1983-85 to advance to three consecutive Cup finals.

When it was over, Hedman, who returned for the third period, joined Stamkos and alternate captains Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn in accepting the Prince of Wales Trophy. He was all smiles as he followed Stamkos into the dressing room, the captain cradling the trophy that goes to the Eastern Conference champion.

Four more wins, and the Lightning will become the first team to win three or more consecutive Stanley Cups since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

History beckons.

They just have to stay patient a little bit longer.

Grade: A+

Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in Game 6:

Leading the way

Steven Stamkos (91) walks to the locker room with the Prince of Wales Trophy.
Steven Stamkos (91) walks to the locker room with the Prince of Wales Trophy. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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Stamkos, the ultimate team player, has conceded the spotlight to his teammates for much of the past three postseasons: Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point before he was injured.

So it was nice to see the captain in the middle of everything in Game 6, with two goals, four shots on goal, three hits, a blocked shot and a takeaway in 16:06. As luck would have it, he also happened to be in the penalty box when the Rangers scored their lone goal.

Stamkos opened the scoring with 9:17 left in the second period on a wrist shot off the rush from the top of the right circle. The shot went around the legs of defenseman Ryan Lindgren and under the blocker and over the pad of Igor Shesterkin to put the Lightning ahead 1-0.

Stamkos was penalized for holding Lafreniere with 8:15 to play, leading to Frank Vatrano’s tying power-play goal with just under seven minutes remaining. But Stamkos quickly made amends, scoring just 21 seconds later to restore the Lightning lead.

A pass from Kucherov sent Stamkos in alone on Shesterkin, The goaltender made a glove save on his shot from low in the slot, but the puck came out of his glove and hit Stamkos in the left leg as he skated by.

Stamkos finished with five goals in the series. His line, which includes Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, combined for 12.


Grade: A+

Strong throughout

It took the Lightning more than 30 minutes to get on the scoreboard, but they carried the action from the start, playing with more quickness and spending more time in the offensive zone.

By the end of the second period, they held advantages of 50-23 in shot attempts, 23-13 in shots on goal and 12-2 in scoring chances.

Only the outstanding work of Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game.

Shesterkin created his own trouble on the Lightning’s first scoring opportunity, as his clearing pass less than four minutes into the game was batted down by Riley Nash above the right circle. Nash quickly got the puck to Pat Maroon at the top of the crease, but Shesterkin stopped Maroon’s tip-in attempt.

Shesterkin made a left-skate save on a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare tip of a Hedman shot later in the period, then a left-pad stop on an Anthony Cirelli backhander from point-blank range in the final minute after a Brandon Hagel pass sent Cirelli in alone.

In the second period, Cirelli drove to the net, but Shesterkin stopped his backhand attempt. Shesterkin then robbed Kucherov from low in the left circle after a cross-ice pass from Stamkos, and held his ground when Maroon made a power move to the front of the net.

The Lightning made a concerted effort throughout the game to get as many shots to the net as they could, while the Rangers struggled to generate chances or get traffic in front of Vasilevskiy.

Aside from Tampa Bay’s 6-2 loss in Game 1, it was the least competitive game of the series.

Grade: A

Crucial kill

The Lightning played a disciplined game, but two third-period penalties put a ton of pressure on their penalty kill.

The unit stopped the first of the Rangers’ two opportunities with the man-advantage, and it was a huge kill.

With Tampa Bay leading 1-0 and 17:35 to play, Corey Perry was penalized for high-sticking Filip Chytil, giving New York its first power play of the game.

Erik Cernak blocked a couple of Mika Zibanejad blasts from the left circle, the second with his right hand, sending him to the dressing room. Mikhail Sergachev forced a Chytil giveaway at the blue line. Jan Rutta, who came out to replace Cernak, threw a puck along the boards and out of the zone to complete the kill.

Like everything else, it was a team effort.

Grade: A

Virtually untouchable

Vasilevskiy didn’t get another shutout in a series-clinching game, but he came awfully close.

Thanks to the defensive play in front of him, he wasn’t tested much, stopping 20 of 21 shots. But he made a huge save on an Andrew Copp rebound attempt from the top of the crease with about 13 minutes remaining, taking away the bottom of the net after stopping a Jacob Trouba shot from the right point.

Only Vatrano’s blast from above the left circle with 6:53 to play after a Copp faceoff win kept Vasilevskiy from a seventh shutout in his past eight series-clinching games. He has allowed just two goals on 221 shots in those games, for a save percentage of .991.


Grade: A

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