The Tampa Bay Lightning are Eastern Conference Champions. After defeating the New York Islanders in six games, the Lightning advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2015. They’ll meet the Dallas Stars in the final best-of-seven bout. Tampa won this Game 6 in an overtime thriller after losing Game 5 in OT.
Tampa Bay Lightning Win Eastern Conference Final
Slow Start Turns Into Quick-Strike Offence
News on the injury front highlighted the start of the game. Brayden Point drew back in for Tampa, but Adam Pelech was a no-go for the Island. Both teams would dress 11 forwards and seven defencemen.
It was a lazy start to the game, continuing Game 5’s trend. There was a multitude of low-risk opportunities throughout the first few minutes of the game. The first real scoring chance came off of Nikita Kucherov‘s stick about four minutes in, but his slapper went wide. The Islanders took it the other way and set up shop in the offensive zone. An Anders Lee shot ended up deflecting off a Lightning stick, and a pinching Devon Toews was able to secure a wraparound and beat a laggy Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Islanders were shockingly up 1-0 early, and momentum looked to be on their side when they immediately picked up a two-on-one. However, a great defensive play by Tampa’s Ryan McDonagh nullified the opportunity. The Lightning took it back up the ice, and Victor Hedman took advantage of a sloppy rebound to tie the game.
From there the game opened up massively, with the offence going quickly both ways. It lasted for the latter half of the period, with no team able to capitalize on their opportunities. Heading to the second tied, it was anybody’s game.
Sleepy Second Turns Scary for Lightning
The second started with a calm demeanour, as no team got any real chances through the first few minutes. The Lightning, led by the Anthony Cirelli line, were able to gain some solid offensive zone pressure further on. Nothing came of it, however, and Semyon Varlamov maintained his strength in goal for New York. Toews took a delay-of-game penalty, exacerbating the issue. Entering the power-play, the Lightning had gained a massive 21-6 lead in shots. Tampa generated a flurry of chances, as Kucherov was a monster below the dots. The Islanders killed it off, but Cal Clutterbuck immediately took another penalty to put the Lightning back on the man-advantage. Varlamov continued to be sharp, killing off the penalty. The Lightning garnered three shots on the two power plays.
In the latter half of the period, Mikhail Sergachev kept the Islanders at six shots with a huge block but laboured to the bench. New York began to lay on momentum though, finally getting some sustained offensive pressures about 13 minutes into the period. Things then largely returned to the same-old-same-old of this series, with defensive hockey being played by both teams. Things took a quickly sour turn for Tampa, as a knee-on-knee collision with Anders Lee took Anthony Cirelli out of the game. Cirelli tripped over Lee’s extended leg as he tried to stay onside. Tampa’s Tyler Johnson took a penalty in retaliation, and the Islanders turned to the power-play. The Lightning sat with just 10 forwards at this point. Tampa was able to get a shorthanded break, but Erik Cernak fanned on another two-on-one. It was the last big chance of the second period, as the teams entered the third locked at one goal apiece.
Stalemate in the Third
The third started on a good note for the Lightning, as Cirelli returned to the game. However it was the Islanders who started with sustained pressure this time, but they failed to break the tie. The Lightning soon returned the favour, as the much-talked-about depth hemmed the Islanders in their zone. They too failed to convert but pushed the shot counter to a 31-15 advantage for the Lightning around five minutes into the period. Blake Coleman then found himself on a pseudo-two-on-one, but Varlamov shut the door yet again. The Islanders stole momentum off that save, peppering Vasilevskiy with a flurry of shots. Both goalies put on displays as the game headed into the final ten minutes.
Both teams continued to play cautious hockey after the halfway point, seemingly prepping for overtime. Opportunities were cancelling each other out, as the third period was remarkably even at this point. However, the Devon Toews took his second puck-over-glass penalty of the game, putting the Lightning on the power-play with six minutes to go. The Lightning were never able to get a real shot through, however, and the Islanders kept the game tied. They used the kill momentum to create some opportunities at their end, but couldn’t convert. A behind-the-back pass from Brayden Point to Ondrej Palat almost sealed it for the Lightning with about a minute left, but Varlamov came up strong. An icing call put the puck back in the Lightning o-zone, with the shots reading 42-21 for Tampa. Andy Greene then took a penalty with only 23 seconds left in the game after high-sticking Kucherov, putting Tampa on a potentially series-winning four-minute power play. They couldn’t convert in the final seconds, and the game headed to overtime.
Tampa Ecstasy in OT
The Lightning started OT with over three minutes of power-play time remaining. However, Brock Nelson made out with a shorthanded breakaway. Vasilevskiy stood tall, keeping the Lightning in it. A Kucherov bomb at the end of the power play would not go as the Islanders killed off all four minutes. Tampa maintained some pressure after the conclusion of the man advantage, pushing the shots to 45-26. Opportunities continued to go back and forth, showing why it was only a 1-1 game up until this point. A poor change left the Lightning in the box with a too many men on the ice penalty, a potentially damaging blow. The Lightning ended up killing the penalty kill, avoiding embarrassment. The shots read 47-27 at the conclusion of the penalty.
Things were turned positive quickly. Anthony Cirelli scored the OT winner off a behind the net pass from Blake Coleman. The Lightning will advance to the Stanley Cup Final, and play the Stars for the best trophy in sports.
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