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Tampa Bay Lightning eliminate New York Rangers, seal berth in third straight Stanley Cup Final

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals 2-1 on Saturday night to advance to their third straight Stanley Cup Final.

Steven Stamkos scored both goals to power the Lightning over the Rangers, who saw their surprising and dramatic playoff run end in the conference final.

The Lightning are trying to become the first team to three-peat as champion since the New York Islanders in 1983. The Stanley Cup Final between the Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche will begin Wednesday in Denver. The Avalanche are seeking their first Stanley Cup since 2001.

The Eastern Conference finals were billed as a battle between Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, and Game 6 was a fitting climax. Shesterkin made 28 saves, several of them spectacular, to keep the Rangers in the game.

Vasilevskiy (20 saves), meanwhile, continued his mastery in potential series-clinching games. He now has 13 wins in 24 career potential playoff series-clinchers and has allowed only one goal or less in 11 of those games.

The first period was scoreless thanks to Shesterkin. He made point-blank saves on Pat Maroon and Anthony Cirelli and a fantastic skate save on a deflection by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He worked more magic in the second period with a tremendous save on a Nikita Kucherov chance.

Shesterkin made 16 saves before Stamkos wired a long-range shot from the right wing boards past the goalie’s stick side. It was the Lightning captain’s 40th career playoff goal and eighth of the postseason.

The Lightning ended the second period up 1-0 with a 23-13 shot advantage.

The Rangers finally earned a power play opportunity at 2:26 of the third period. They entered the game with the best conversion rate in the playoffs (31.5%) but had only 3:15 of power-play time in the previous two games. The Lightning killed off that man advantage — but not New York’s second one.

With Stamkos in the penalty box for hooking, Frank Vatrano fired a shot past Vasilevskiy for his fifth of the playoffs at 13:07 of the third period.

But Stamkos would answer back with his ninth of the playoffs just 21 seconds later.

Kucherov found Stamkos streaking to the Rangers’ net with a pass. He shot the puck into the glove of Shesterkin, but the puck popped into the air and bounced off the leg of Stamkos into the net for the 2-1 lead. The goal was upheld on video review by the NHL Situation Room.

The Rangers weren’t able to get the equalizer. Their offense sputtered to just one goal for the third straight game.

Rangers coach Gerard Gallant hinted before Game 6 he could make lineup changes, and they were plentiful. He scratched forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, for the first time in the postseason and replaced him with forward Dryden Hunt. He also broke up the duo of Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, which had anchored the Rangers’ most productive line in the playoffs.

The Lightning lost defenseman Victor Hedman for the last 10:45 of the second period after he was hit in the head by Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere. But Hedman returned to start the third period.

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