The Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the third straight season and the reward is to start over on the road against the best regular season team in the Western Conference.
The two-time defending champions, who have lacked home-court advantage in every round, will open the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) after beating the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 at Amalie Arena goals from captain Steven Stamkos.
“We don’t care how it’s done, we just have to do it,” he told reporters after the game. “I am very proud of this group. We are going to the Finals again and we have the opportunity to do something special.”
Stamkos opened the scoring in Saturday’s goalkeeping battle when his wrist shot evaded a partially covered Igor Shesterkin at 10:43 of the second period.
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Stamkos was in the penalty area when New York’s Frank Vatrano tied the game on a power play at 13:07 of the third period.
But Stamkos scored 21 seconds later when his shot rebounded into his leg. Shesterkin complained but the goal survived review.
“It’s not the individuals,” Stamkos said. “It’s fantastic to score a couple of goals in a big game like this, but if I didn’t score and we won, I’d be just as happy… We know that everyone in our room plays a big part in our success.”
Shesterkin, a finalist for the Vezina and Hart trophies, made 28 saves as he fell short in trying to improve to 6-0 in elimination games this postseason.
“I think Igor was outstanding,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He gave us a chance to win every night and they beat us in a lot of games, but he was outstanding. He was our best player all year and he did it again in this series.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 saves and was helped by 17 shots blocked by defenders.
The fact that the Lightning were able to hold the Rangers to one goal in each of the last three games bodes well as they prepare to face the onslaught of high-flyers.
“It’s no secret that they have some electric players,” Stamkos said. “To be honest, it’s probably a team that we thought we would play for the last two years. … Now they’ve broken through and they have an amazing mix of veteran presence, star power, grinders, the goalie. A great challenge for us.”
The Lightning are trying to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row between 1980 and 1983.
Tampa Bay beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, swept the No. 1 seed overall Florida Panthers and beat the Rangers in six after losing the first two games of the series, including 6-2 in Game 1 after a long break.
“As the series went on, we got better and better, and I think tonight was maybe our best game overall,” forward Alex Killorn said.
Lightning’s Victor Hedman temporarily leaves the game
Victor Hedman was taken out of the game in the second half when Alexis Lafrenière hit him in the head with a check. The defenseman, who is a Norris Trophy finalist for the fifth consecutive season, grabbed his head and broke his stick as he returned to the bench.
Hedman rubbed his jaw as he sat on the bench and had to go to the locker room, presumably due to concussion protocol.
But he returned to action in the third period and played a regular shift.
Kaapo Kakko from the Rangers, a healthy scratch
Gallant had limited the use of the Kid Line during the team’s loss in Game 5.
In Game 6, he dropped Kaapo Kakko and moved the other two Kid Line members to other lines. Lafrenière started alongside Mika Zibanejad and Vatrano and Filip Chytil was in line with Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow, although the lines changed later.
Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, has five points in 19 playoff games. Small forward Brayden Hunt made his third appearance in his postseason and first since the first round.
New York’s Ryan Strome, who has been playing through injury, left warm-ups briefly but dressed for the game. He did not play in the third period.
Lightning center Brayden Point, who was injured in the first round, is out again, though he is skating.