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Steven Stamkos leads Lightning back to Stanley Cup Final with a pair of goals

The Captain doing captain things.

New York Rangers v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Six Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season. With two goals from Steven Stamkos and 20 saves from Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1. After dropping the first two games of the series, the Bolts roared back with four straight wins to claim another Eastern Conference banner. Frank Vatrano was the lone Ranger to find the back of the net against Vasilevskiy

Looking to get his offense kickstarted, Gerard Gallant mixed his lines up, scratching Kaapo Kakko and inserting Dryden Hunt. Alexis Lafraniere moved up to the top line to start the game. Barclay Goodrow, Chris Kreider, and Filip Chytil made up the reconstituted second line. It’s one of the moves that, if it works, is genius, but if it doesn’t then fans will question it all summer long.

The first real chance came on an Igor Shesterkin turnover. He tried to clear it up the boards, but Riley Nash knocked it down and centered to a wide open Pat Maroon. Maroon’s shot found the chest pad instead of the five hole.

The first period was a textbook attack for the Lightning. Their forecheck either created turnovers in the zone or forced clearing passes to empty space that they jumped on and quickly brought back into the zone. There was only one final boss they weren’t able to solve in the first period. Shesterkin. His best save came with the left pad as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare deflected a shot right in front of him. Through the first 15+ minutes shot attempts were 24-7 in favor of the home team. Yet the score - an annoying 0-0.

New York finally realized that it’s a lot less tiring to play in the Lightning zone than it was to chase them around in their own and built up a little momentum with a long shift on the front foot. It didn’t pay off, but Vasilevskiy at least had to make a couple of saves, including a point-blank attempt from Lafreniere.

With time dwindling down Anthony Cirelli had a glorious chance with a quasi-breakaway, but his backhand attempt was not up to the task of beating Shesterkin. Apparently that line’s Faustian bargain allowed them to shut down the Rangers offense at the cost of the ability to score themselves.

The Rangers continued their strategy of allowing the Lightning to frustrate themselves by watching Shesterkin deny Grade A chances continued in the early portion of the second period. Cirelli tried a backhander again, and then Kucherov was stoned by a brilliant glove save.

Jacob Trouba riled the crowd up with an open ice hit of a puckless Corey Perry. At least he kept his elbow down this time. Shortly after Kevin Rooney and Mikhail Sergachev picked up matching penalties for roughhousing behind the Lightning net. The 4-on-4 was without drama, but Trouba was serenaded with some boos when he gathered up a loose puck.

The temperature on the ice was slowly rising throughout the period as both sides started finishing checks with a little extra oomph. First it was Lafreniere catching Victor Hedman on the cheek with a shoulder and then Dryden Hunt knocking Pat Maroon into Shesterkin.

As Hedman headed back into the locker room, the Lightning headed into the lead thanks to, who else? Steven Stamkos.

Steven Stamkos (Ondrej Palat, Mikhail Sergachev) 1-0 Lightning

With Ryan Lindgren pushing Stamkos towards the boards a bit, Shesterkin might have thought that The Captain would drive the puck around the boards instead of shooting. Still, it was an excellent shot to the far post that had shades of his 2:47 goal against the Dallas Stars in 2020.

Zach Bogosian almost blew the roof off of the joint as he cut around a defender and had a chance to stuff it home, but Shesterkin made the save. The Lightning went on the power play with seven minutes to go, with Mikhail Sergachev taking Hedman’s spot on the top unit. They did not score.

Following the power play the Cirelli line added a few more clips for their “How in the world does this line not score” 2022 Playoffs video. The Rangers kept looking for offense, but the Lightning smothered chances before they could get started. The period ended 1-0 on the scoreboard and absolutely lopsided anytime the Cirelli line was on the ice.

With Victor Hedman back on the ice, it was Brandon Hagel getting denied early on a good look to start the third period.

A high stick on Filip Chytil by Corey Perry led to the Rangers first power play of the game. With their recent inability to score at 5v5 the game had reached a tipping point. Not only did the Lightning not surrender a goal, they didn’t allow a shot on goal as they blocked five shots and denied several zone entries. The odds tipped in favor of the Lightning.

Following Vasilevskiy’s best save of the night (a denial of Andrew Copp on a rare rebound chance) the Lightning put together one of those grinding shifts where they don’t get a ton of good looks, but they cycle the puck relentlessly and bleed time off the clock while wearing down the defense. In the end the Cirelli line did get a chance, but you don’t need two guesses to figure out how that went....

Desperation set in for Gallant and his charges. The New York coach loaded up his top line again in an attempt to find some offense. They didn’t get a goal, but they did get another power play as Steven Stamkos vicariously grazed Lafreniere’s shoulder, which resulted in the young forward sprawling to the ice.

It proved to be a good play as the Rangers poured everything they had into the man advantage. Mika Zibanajad ripped one wide and then had a slap-pass directed just wide.On a face-off, Frank Vatrano ripped one just under a falling Killorn and past Vasilevskiy. Killorn was so close to getting out there, but clipped skates with a Ranger forward and lost his balance.

Frank Vatrano (Andrew Copp) 1-1

This team. This mother-lovin team. Just as New York thought they might have a little momentum, the Lightning turned it right back around. Twenty-one seconds. That’s the length of time that the game was tied.

Ondrej Palat with the long breakout pass to Kucherov. Head up, Kuch put it on Stamkos (who had beaten Trouba) and The Captain had his first shot gloved by Shesterkin, but the goaltender couldn’t hang on to it and the puck bounced off of Stammer and into the back of the net.

With the lead and five minutes to go, the Lightning showed their experience. Hagel and Cirelli stopped rushes at center ice, Palat won a race for icing, Sergachev blocked a Zbanajad shot. The little things that make the big goals count.

One final face-off won by the Rangers, but the loose puck scrum was won by the Lightning. The horn sounded, the arena erupted, and the Lightning were back in the Stanley Cup Final.