Steven Stamkos scored two goals and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to the Stanley Cup final for the third straight year after beating the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on 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 penalty box for holding.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat assisted on the winner with six and a half minutes left, with the puck deflecting off Stamkos’ knee into the net after Rangers goalie 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 – rattling off four straight victories after losing the first two games on the road – to advance to the Stanley Cup final against the Colorado Avalanche.
Game 1 is Wednesday night in Denver.
The Lightning are the first team to make three consecutive appearances in the Cup Final since Edmonton did it from 1983-85. They are trying to become the first to win three straight championships since the New York Islanders claimed four in a row from 1980-83.
The Rangers, down 3-2 in a series for the third straight round, were 5-0 in elimination games this postseason before Saturday night.
The only teams to win six or more elimination games in a single postseason were the 1975 New York Islanders (eight), 2014 Los Angeles Kings (seven) and 2003 Minnesota Wild (six).
The Rangers dropped three of the first four games before winning three straight elimination games to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. They lost the first two on the road at Carolina before rebounding to oust the Hurricanes in seven games to reach the East final.
It was a totally different story Saturday night, with the Lightning limiting New York’s scoring opportunities while outshooting the Rangers 31-21.
Vasilevskiy went long stretches without being tested. He faced just seven shots in the opening 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.