TAMPA– The Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Saturday.
Tampa Bay won the best-of-7 series 4-2 and will play the Colorado Avalanche in the Cup Final. Game 1 is Wednesday in Denver.
The Lightning have won 11 straight playoff series, trailing the New York Islanders (19, from 1980-84) and Montreal Canadiens (13, from 1976-80) for the longest such run in NHL history.
“It’s going to be tough to get out of the moment and look back and realize what a special group we have here because there’s still some games to be played,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “You’re still not at the end of your goal, but in saying that, this group is pretty, pretty amazing and pretty special.
“Each guy is just a part of the process. And what makes this team so special and tight and unique is just we don’t care how it gets done. You just need to get it done. Very, very proud of this group. “
Video: NYR@TBL, Gm6: Stamkos strikes back 21 seconds later
Stamkos scored twice, and Ondrej Palat had two assists for Tampa Bay, the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division and two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 saves.
“When you are in, it’s just sitting up here right now and thinking of the magnitude of going to a third Stanley Cup Final,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You grew up as a kid, and I was not near good enough to play in this league. But growing up in Canada, you always dreamed about having your name on the Stanley Cup.
“And to get there the first time was, I mean, it was a dream come true. To get there a second time, like the next year, it was like a dream. Like there’s no way we’re going back, and to go a third time. Think about that. And you got to look at the players. And I sit back, and I’m just impressed. I’m impressed by them. It’s impressive what they’ve done.”
Frank Vatrano scored for the Rangers, the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division. Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves.
“I don’t know. I feel like denying this right now,” New York forward Mika Zibanejad said. “I don’t honestly have much to say. I’m just…empty. Don’t want it to be over.”
New York scored five goals in the four straight losses after winning the first two games of the series by a combined 9-4. It had one even-strength goal in the final four games.
“I don’t think we were expecting to score six goals a game after that first one,” Rangers defenseman adam fox said. “Two great goalies. I don’t think anyone expected this series to be a ton of goals. We knew special teams were going to play a factor. You want to score more 5-on-5, but we weren’t able to do that. Obviously it hurt us a little bit.”
[Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]
Stamkos put the Lightning ahead 2-1 at 13:28 of the third period off an odd-man rush. Shesterkin saved the initial shot but the rebound bounced off Stamkos’ leg and into the net.
“Best captain in my life,” Vasilevskiy said. “Just amazing.”
Stamkos gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead at 10:43 of the second period. He took control of the puck in the neutral zone, cut toward the top of the circle and sent a sweeping shot that beat Shesterkin to the far post.
“I was just confident in our group that we would find a way, whether it was in regulation or was in overtime,” Stamkos said. “We deserved to win the game tonight. And that was the feeling that we had from puck drop throughout the game. Just keep going, our will is going to take over.”
The Rangers needed a dynamic performance from Shesterkin to keep the game close despite being outshot 31-21.
He made a diving stop on a chip from Nikita Kucherov at 1:20 of the second period and stopped Brandon Hagel at 6:29 of the third period to keep it a one-goal game.
“I thought Igor was outstanding,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He gave us a chance to win every night. We got out-chanced in a lot of the games, but he was outstanding. He was our best player all year long and again in this series.”
Video: NYR@TBL, Gm6: Stamkos opens scoring at top of circle
Vatrano tied it 1-1 at 13:07 of the third period with a power-play goal. Andrew Copp won the draw cleanly, and Vatrano scored on a one-timer from the high slot.
“You make it 1-1 late in the third, you’re obviously thinking you’ve got a shot,” Fox said. “We’ve done it before. This time we weren’t able to finish it off. But we battled at the end, tied it, but obviously didn’t get this one.”
NOTES: Rangers forward Ryan Strome did not return after sustaining a lower-body injury in the second period. … Lightning forward Brayden Point missed his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury. … Tampa Bay is the first defending Cup champion to lose the first two games and win a best-of-7 series since the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2014 Western Conference First Round. … Kucherov had an assist to extend his point streak to five games (three goals, five assists). … Rangers forward Dryden Hunt was in the lineup for the first time since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round. He was minus-1 with two shots on goal and five hits in 10:58. … Palat had two assists and has seven points (three goals, four assists) during a four-game point streak. … Stamkos set an NHL career high with nine playoff goals, one more than last season. … Vasilevskiy won his 61st playoff game to tie Tom Barrasso and Henrik Lundqvist for 14th in NHL history. … Cooper got his 82nd playoff coaching win to tie Toe Blake for 12th in NHL history. … The Lightning won their seven straight home playoff game, breaking their record set last season. … Rangers forward Chris Kreider played his 100th playoff game. He is third in Rangers history behind Dan Girardi (122) and Marc Staal (107).