The Tampa Bay Lightning knew before the Eastern Conference final even began that the New York Islanders wouldn’t go down without a fight. And for a long, frightening stretch there Thursday night, there was real concern the stingy, stubborn Islanders wouldn’t be going down at all. But with Game 7 flashing before their eyes, the […]Lightning secure Stanley Cup final berth with gritty OT win — Edmonton Sun
Lightning secure Stanley Cup final berth with gritty OT win
Author of the article:Robert Tychkowski
Publishing date:Sep 18, 2020 • Last Updated 1 hour ago • 4 minute read
The Tampa Bay Lightning knew before the Eastern Conference final even began that the New York Islanders wouldn’t go down without a fight.
And for a long, frightening stretch there Thursday night, there was real concern the stingy, stubborn Islanders wouldn’t be going down at all.
But with Game 7 flashing before their eyes, the Lightning finally landed a shot that guarantees New York won’t be getting up off the canvas.
Anthony Cirelli scored 13:18 into overtime, banking the puck home off the post to close out the Islanders 2-1 in Game 6 and set up a Stanley Cup Final showdown with the Dallas Stars.
“It’s just a blur, but to be playing for the Stanley Cup final is every kid’s goal growing up,” said Cirelli. “The emotions are so high. We’ve worked all year to get to the Stanley Cup Final and we’re here now. We’re ready to go.”
Tampa improved to 5-0 in games following a loss, showing an ability to fight through adversity at every turn.
“It’s how we respond, the character we have in that locker-room,” said winger Patrick Maroon, who’s looking for two in a row after winning a Cup with St. Louis last season.
“We have that mentality of the next man up. I’m super proud of these guys. It just goes to show how much character we have. We have that no-quit mentality in our locker-room.”
It was a battle for most of Game 6. Despite a 17-6 advantage in shots, the teams were tied 1-1 after 20 minutes on goals from New York’s Devon Toews at 4:15 and a quick reply from Tampa’s Victor Hedman at 6:28.
By the end of regulation, Tampa had doubled the Islanders’ shot total, 42-21, but still had nothing to show for it but frustration thanks to goaltender Semyon Varlamov and the Isles’ bend-but-don’t-break style.
“When you reach the conference final, there are no easy games,” said Hedman. “A great defensive effort on their part. They have a lot of skill up front and a great goaltender. It was a hard-fought battle.”
Cirelli ended it from the doorstep to put Tampa in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2015, when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. It begins Saturday.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Hedman. “It’s such a hard league to go far in. We really came together here as a group and we’re super excited to get back to the finals. I can’t wait to get it going.”
It’s sweet redemption for the Lightning, who were Stanley Cup favourites last season only to be swept in the first round by Columbus.
“The belief in our group is so strong, and that’s not something that just happens overnight,” said defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “We knew it was going to be tough, but our group believes in one another. Now that we’re here, we’re really determined and focused to finish the job.”
Some teams consider it bad luck to hoist a conference championship trophy, preferring to wait until they get a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, but the Lightning were all over the Prince of Wales trophy, including injured captain Steve Stamkos.
“We talked about it quickly after,” said Alex Killorn. “In 2015, we didn’t touch it. We’re not too superstitious, but we thought, ‘Screw it, let’s grab it.’ We’re going to celebrate this and hopefully celebrate another after.”
ON THE RISE
The Islanders finished in seventh place in the east and gained momentum as the playoffs went on, beating Washington in the first round and taking down Philadelphia in the second.
Coming two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final is tough to take, but with Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello driving the bus, their future looks very good.
“There are very few teams that put a group together and win a championship right away without a little failure on the way,” said Trotz. “When the Islanders won four straight (Stanley Cups), there was a lot of hardship on the front end. Same with Edmonton and Detroit. My former club (Washington) had a lot of heartbreak before we broke through. There are a lot of lessons on the way. Learning these lessons are invaluable.”
The Lightning lost Games 3 and 5, the two games that leading scorer Brayden Points didn’t dress for, so they were glad to have him back in the lineup for Game 6.
Point’s status has been a daily concern in the Tampa locker-room, but head coach Jon Cooper said they never put the situation ahead of the player.
“In the end, it’s the player we care about the most. If we’re going to put the player in harm’s way, we will not play him. If we do, then it’s justified because we’ve gone through all the steps. We’re always looking after the player first.”
Hedman’s first-period goal is his ninth of the playoffs, the third most by any defenceman in a single playoff year. Hedman moved past Denis Potvin and into a tie with Bobby Orr and Brad Park, two goals behind Brian Leetch and three behind Paul Coffey.
On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski