Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli scored 13:18 into overtime in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, and the Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in Edmonton.
Cirelli took a feed from Barclay Goodrow from behind the net and fired from point-blank range. The puck bounced off the post, skittered along the goal line and then ticked off goalie Semyon Varlamov’s skate and into the back of the net to end the best-of-seven series.
Cirelli raised his arms in celebration moments before the red light went on and the officials acknowledged it was a goal.
“The emotions (are) just so high,” Cirelli said. “We worked all year. Our goal is to be playing for the Stanley Cup and we’re here now. I think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation.”
Victor Hedman scored in the first period and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves for the Lightning, who will face the Dallas Stars for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship series is scheduled for Saturday.
The Finals berth is the third for the Lightning, who won it all by beating the Calgary Flames in 2004 and fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
Devon Toews scored in the first period and Varlamov made 46 saves for the Islanders, who were in seventh place in the Eastern Conference when the pandemic ended the regular season before reaching the conference finals for the first time in 27 years.
“Just a special group in our room,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “And till that very last minute, just every single one of us believed in each other and what we were doing and the road we were on. Obviously, we came up short, but there’s just a huge sense of pride right now in every single one of those guys in our room and everyone involved.”
After combining for just two regulation goals in Game 5, the teams traded goals in a span of 2:13 early in the first period of Game 6.
The Islanders took a short-lived lead on an impressive individual effort by Toews, who streaked to the left side of the crease as he received a pass from Lee. Toews deked as if he planned to shoot, and with Vasilevskiy committed, instead skated around the net and tucked home a shot into the right corner of the net that ticked off the Vasilevskiy’s skate at the 4:15 mark.
The Lightning took advantage of a rare defensive breakdown by the Islanders to tie the game. Varlamov deflected a shot by Erik Cernak, but no New York player pounced on the rebound. Hedman swooped in between defensemen Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy and fired a shot past the outstretched stick of Mayfield and over Varlamov’s stick arm.
The Lightning outshot the Islanders 17-6 in the first period and had the first seven shots of the second but could not break the tie despite getting four unanswered shots during back-to-back power plays in the first 10 minutes.
New York nearly took the lead just before the horn of the second period, but Matt Martin couldn’t get his stick fully on a point-blank opportunity in the crease and Vasilevskiy smothered the puck with 3.1 seconds left.
The teams traded prime scoring chances in the final minutes of regulation. A pass from New York’s Jordan Eberle sailed wide of Mathew Barzal, who was streaking toward the crease, with about 3:30 left. Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat almost scored with 1:15 left, when his shot from the doorstep was smothered by Varlamov, who was looking behind him when the puck landed beneath him.
In the overtime, Vasilevskiy turned back a short-handed breakaway by Brock Nelson, and a shot by Palat sailed behind Varlamov and out of the crease.
Referencing the Lightning’s numerous tight games in the postseason, including overtime contests in Games 5 and 6 against the Islanders, Tampa Bay winger Pat Maroon said, “My fingernails are gone.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of his emotions when the winning goal was scored, “It is so hard to explain, because regardless of if there’s fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief are — it’s unparalleled how you feel inside.
“When you look back at this — and it’s not over — but we’ve been (in a) hotel for 54 straight days. … It might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. And there are two of us left standing. They’re going through the exact same thing we are.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said, “This is one of the most resilient teams I’ve coached, and I’ve coached for a long time. Real proud of what we’ve done and the strides we’ve made. But we’re obviously very disappointed as a group, because this group felt two things — it could represent the East and the second thing is hopefully play for the Stanley Cup.
“But we just fell a little bit short.”
-Field Level Media