Andrei Vasilevskiy posted an 18-save shutout (his fourth consecutive series-clinching shutout) and Yanni Gourde scored a shorthanded goal early in the second period to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 1-0 victory in their Game Seven semifinal against the New York Islanders. The Lightning will now face the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Lightning rebounded from yet another loss and were boosted by the return of Nikita Kucherov, who left Game Six early, and Erik Cernak, who had been out the previous two games. Kucherov skated for 16:29 (fourth overall for forwards) and Cernak had 4 hits and 2 blocks in his 19:50 of ice time.
The Lightning started off with some solid pressure on the Islanders net, but with the New York defense sagging in towards the net, a lot of shots were blocked aside. Kucherov’s first shift was pretty ho-hum. He didn’t take any big hits and just missed on a nice centering pass with Brayden Point as he threw it back into the slot against the grain of play. His body may not be 100%, but his brain was still clicking on overdrive.
Despite the pressure from the home team, it was the Islanders with the first good look at net as Anthony Beauvillier used his speed to separate from the defense and in on Vasilevskiy. The Lightning netminder made the save with his right pad.
The Islanders had a spurt of pressure as the Yanni Gourde line struggled to clear the puck. Blake Coleman had a chance to get the puck out but skated by it in an effort return a hit on Adam Pelech. Despite a little choppy play, the Lightning were able to keep the Islanders from generating any real dangerous situations.
The Lightning did have two glorious chances, first by Tyler Johnson alone in the slot, but the pass out kind of handcuffed him and his shot didn’t have much behind it. Then Victor Hedman (!) got behind the net and collected a flip pass. He ripped it on net, but Varlamov was up to the task of stopping the shot.
Both teams are best when their forechecks are clicking, and throughout the first period it was the Lightning that had the better run of play in their opponent’s zone, especially the fourth line. Colton, Johnson, and Pat Maroon did an excellent job of tilting the ice in the Lightning’s favor and generating some good looks at the net.
At the opposite end, Vasilevskiy didn’t have much to do after the initial save on Beauvillier as the Islanders only generated shot attempts with just five getting through to the goaltender. There were only a couple of occasions where the Islanders managed to maintain any sort of sustained zone time.
Early in the second period Barclay Goodrow tested what the refs would let the teams get away with as he buried an Islander with a crosscheck in the Lightning zone. The refs didn’t let it go. It was a pretty good power play for New York as they found some room in the the zone to make some plays. Beauvillier chipped one off of the crossbar that almost beat Vasilevskiy.
It was a pretty good power play except for about 10 seconds in the middle. The Lightning capitalized during that brief let down. Ryan McDonagh cleared it from his zone and Anthony Cirelli worked it into the zone. He spied Yanni Gourde coming off the bench unmarked and buried the pass into the back of the net.
Yanni Gourde (Anthony CIrelli, Alex Killorn) Shorthanded
Nikita Kucherov may not have been at 100% for the game, but he was still getting his looks. A shifty little move on the New York defense gave him enough space to wrist a shot at the net that Varlamov barely grazed to the side with his blocker. Varlamov had to be at the top of his game to deflect a blast from Steven Stamkos as well.
At even strength, the Lightning were suffocating the New York offense. Even when they could get into the zone, there just wasn’t much for them to look at. Case in point, with about three minutes to in the period Mathew Barzal had the puck on his stick. He dipped and weaved around on the ice, but couldn’t find an opportunity. He finally dished it off to Jordan Eberle whose shot was blocked and cleared by the Lightning. The Bolts structure in their own zone was textbook defense.
Tampa did get caught in their own zone at the end of the period but never scrambled or chased their way out of position. Mikhail Sergachev was stuck on the ice for 2:40 shift, but still managed to block a shot at the end of it.
It was New York with two quick chances to start the third as Brock Nelson was stopped by Vasilevskiy’s left pad and Josh Bailey’s follow-up went wide. The Bolts survived the early rush and regained their footing. Brayden Point almost slipped through the Islanders defense, but a last minute play by Adam Pelech spun him just enough to keep him from getting a shot off.
As time ticked down, the Islanders started to push their defense up a bit and the Lightning came close to a couple of odd-skater rushes/breakaway, but desperate lunges by the last Islander back broke them up. That type of play usually eventually leads to a goal or a penalty.
Unlike for the first fifty minutes of the game, Vasy had to be sharp in the final half of the third period. Bailey had a turnaround shot that was batted aside. Then Noah Dobson rammed a slapshot on net that the big ol’ goalie stopped. New York was finding spots in the Lightning zone, but a lot of it was caused by the defense activating. If the Bolts could catch them cheating, there would be room for a counterattack.
Barzal had a glorious chance to tie it with about five minutes to go as a deflected puck skittered out to him. The puck gods were with the Lightning as the frozen piece of rubber hopped over his stick. Blake Coleman had a similar chance as the Gourde line’s forecheck produced a turnover. As Coleman streaked in front of Varlamov he let a shot go that the veteran netminder deflected.
With 2:24 to go in the game, Barry Trotz pulled his goalie and the Lightning fans responded with some of their loudest cheers of the night. The first minute was spent in the Lightning zone but no shots came out of it. The Lightning cleared and Goodrow busted down the ice to prevent an icing and and trapped the puck along the boards, bleeding valuable time off of the clock.
One last push by the Islanders (after Sergachev ripped a shot at the empty net that was blocked) caused a few seconds of worry, but the Islanders couldn’t find the net and the Lightning emerged victorious.