Lightning overcome Rangers to reach third Stanley Cup Final in a row

The Tampa Bay Lighting’s three-peat attempt has survived all the way to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. After a hard-fought series with the Rangers, the Lightning face a well-rested Avalanche team in the sort of best-on-best matchup we rarely see in the NHL playoffs.

To get there, the Lightning needed to overcome the Rangers (most of all, Igor Shesterkin) in a tough Game 6. While they dominated puck possession, the Lightning narrowly beat the Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 to win the series 4-2.

With this victory, the Lightning have won 11 consecutive playoff series, the third-best stretch in NHL history. The Avalanche may just present the biggest challenge of these past 12 series, too. The 2022 Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday, with Game 1 in Colorado.

2022 Stanley Cup Final schedule

Wednesday, June 15: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, June 18: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, June 20: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Friday, June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Sunday, June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Tuesday, June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports

* if necessary

Stamkos makes the difference in a frantic finish

Steven Stamkos scored two huge goals, ones that felt more and more precious as Shesterkin put on a show.

Scroll for the first one, but here’s the second tally that survived a video review:

As that caption notes, the Rangers had just enjoyed an all-too-rare burst of hope against the Lightning in Game 6. Frank Vatrano pounced on a loose puck from a faceoff to make it 1-1 for a very short time.

Again, it didn’t take long for Stamkos to restore the lead.

Rangers rely on Shesterkin to stay in Game 6 against the Lightning; Cirelli shines

For much of these playoffs, Anthony Cirelli has been an unsung hero for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cirelli and his linemates (Brandon Hagel and Alex Killorn) have made life miserable for top Rangers scorers such as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. (Gerard Gallant at least tried to wiggle out of that matchup a bit in Game 6 by temporarily splitting Zibanejad and Panarin; that might have done more harm than good.)

 

Cirelli’s value was tougher to miss in Game 6, as Cirelli created a ton of chances. Unfortunately for Cirelli, Igor Shesterkin was also on the top of his game.

… Although you could argue that Shesterkin shouldn’t have been beaten by this Steven Stamkos 1-0 goal:

Against a lesser goalie, one can only guess how many points Cirelli and his linemates might have ended up with. Instead, they finished with a goose egg.

Through the first 40 minutes, the Lightning dominated Game 6, but the Rangers entered the third period down just 1-0 largely thanks to Shesterkin.

[More perspective on how much the Rangers have asked of Shesterkin.]

During the first two periods, the Lightning dominated high-danger chances (12-3 at all strengths). As great as Andrei Vasilevskiy has been through most of the playoffs, he was mostly watching the other goalie early on.

Some controversial hits in Game 6, including another one by Jacob Trouba

There were controversial hits between the Rangers and Lightning in Game 6, and to little surprise, Jacob Trouba was involved in at least one of them. It’s puzzling, but Trouba was not penalized for interference after this off-puck check on Corey Perry.

Beyond playoff-wide hits (on Sidney Crosby, Max Domi, as two examples), Jacob Trouba has really been racking up heel heat lately. In Game 5, Trouba seemed primed to catch Ondrej Palat with a big elbow, but Palat ducked:

Perry returned during Game 6, but the bottom line is that the battle of attrition is becoming more brutal with borderline hits rarely netting penalties or suspensions.

During that same second period, Alexis Lafrenière angered Victor Hedman with a hit up high. Much like the Trouba interference on Perry, there was no penalty.

Hedman missed the rest of the middle frame, but returned as the third period began.

Overall, the Avalanche figure to be more rested than the Lightning, and perhaps healthier overall. It all points to possibly the Lightning’s biggest test yet, and could translate to a great series.

Can Colorado force Tampa Bay to pass the torch? Judging by this run, the Lightning won’t let it happen without a huge fight.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Eastern Conference Final

NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (TB wins series 4-2)

Game 1 – Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – Rangers 3, Lightning 2
Game 3 – Lightning 3, Rangers 2
Game 4 – Lightning 4, Rangers 1
Game 5 – Lightning 3, Rangers 1
Game 6 – Lightning 2, Rangers 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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