Anthony Cirelli scored at 13:18 of overtime as the Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals in five years with a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Canadian Cirelli scored the biggest goal of his career with a two-foot shot from in front of the goal that bounced off the far post then hit the goalie’s skate and trickled over the goal line.
“To be playing for the Stanley Cup is every kid’s dream,” said Cirelli of Toronto. “We are ready to go. It is going to be exciting times.”
Victor Hedman also scored and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots for the Lightning, who won the Eastern Conference final series four games to two.
“They are such a great team. It was a hard-fought battle and I am very happy we came out on top. This is such a hard league to go far in and we are super excited about going back to the finals,” said the towering Swedish defenceman.
The Lighting will play the first game of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday against the Dallas Stars, who eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Western Conference finals.
Semyon Varlamov made 46 saves and Devon Toews scored a goal for the Islanders, who were trying to stave off elimination for the second straight game in the NHL’s quarantine bubble in Edmonton.
The Lightning are in the NHL championship for the first time since 2015 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.
They won it all in 2004.
Tampa reached the final despite missing their top player Steven Stamkos and playing without playoff scoring leader Brayden Point for good portions of the series.
Point was hurt in game two and missed all of game three and five.
He returned on Thursday and played 25 minutes and had four shots on goal.
The Islanders were coming off a desperation double overtime win in game five, but they couldn’t repeat that success in the extra session in game six.
Just like in game five, New York had to start the overtime killing a four minute high sticking penalty, but Varlamov made sure their season didn’t end there. Toews scored on a wrap around at 4:15 of the first period to get the Islanders on the board first.
Toews drove past the net and skirted the back of the cage then neatly tucked the puck in the far corner of the skate of Vasilevskiy, who slid across too late.
Swedish defenceman Hedman tied it up 1-1 two minutes later with a blast from in front of a rebound.
Hedman timed his drive to the net perfectly so he could take advantage of a poor rebound by Varlamov that bounced right on Hedman’s stick.
Hedman has become one of the Lightning’s top scorers in the postseason.
With Point playing hurt and Stamkos watching from the pressbox, Hedman has been telling himself he needs to be more aggressive with the puck.
“We are missing one of the best shooters in the game (Stamkos) so we have to pick up the slack. Good players shoot the puck,” he said.
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