Tampa Bay One Opponent Away From 3rd Consecutive Stanley Cup

By Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning have one more dragon to slay to complete their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive season.

And it might be the toughest one.

But in the aftermath of reaching the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Saturday, it was appropriate for the Lightning to take at least a few minutes to appreciate what they have already achieved.

“It’s going to be tough to get out of the moment and look back and realize what a special group we have here because there’s still some games to be played and we’re still not at the end of our goal,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “But in saying that, this group is pretty amazing, pretty special.”

With a run of 11 consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff series wins, the Lightning are in remarkable company. The Islanders (19 in a row, 1980-84) and the Montreal Canadiens (13, 1976-1980) are the only teams to have won more consecutive NHL playoff series. Tampa Bay is also the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in three straight seasons since the Edmonton Oilers did so from 1983-85. 

And the Colorado Avalanche, who will host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS), are the last remaining obstacle in the Lightning’s path to becoming the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.

“When you’re growing up in Canada, you always dream about having your name on the Stanley Cup, and to get there the first time, it was a dream come true,” coach Jon Cooper said. “To get there a second time, the next year, it was like a dream, like there’s no way we’re going back. And to go a third time is unthinkable. 

“You’ve got to look at the players and, I sit back, and I’m just impressed. I’m impressed by them.”

Considering the changes the Lightning roster went through after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final in five games last season, it’s difficult not to be impressed. 

Tampa Bay lost its entire third line of Barclay Goodrow (traded to the Rangers before he became an unrestricted free agent), Yanni Gourde (claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft) and Blake Coleman (signed with the Calgary Flames as an unrestricted free agent). Forward Tyler Johnson was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for salary cap reasons and defenseman David Savard signed with the Canadiens.

But general manager Julien BriseBois found ways to replenish the Lightning’s depth, signing forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare last summer and acquiring forwards Nicholas Paul and Brandon Hagel before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline in March.

Those additions have been pivotal to helping the Lightning survive the loss of center Brayden Point, who hasn’t played since Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs because of a lower-body injury. Tampa Bay trailed 3-2 in that best-of-7 series and looked to be on its way out when it entered the third period of Game 6 down a goal; however, Point scored the game-winner for a 4-3 overtime victory and the Lightning won 2-1 in Game 7, with Paul scoring twice.

After sweeping the Florida Panthers in the second round, the Lightning lost the first two games to the Rangers but regrouped and recommitted defensively to reel off four straight victories, giving up one 5-on-5 goal in those four wins.

“As the series progressed, we got better and better and I think tonight may have been our best game overall and I think that’s important in a Stanley Cup run,” forward Alex Killorn said. “It’s typically the team that improves the most throughout a run that typically ends up winning.”

Stamkos was the hero Saturday, scoring twice, including the winning goal with 6:32 remaining in the third period, 21 seconds after the Rangers tied the score on Frank Vatrano‘s power-play goal. But, as it has for most of the playoffs, Tampa Bay won with a complete team effort, limiting New York to a series-low 21 shots on goal.

“I think it’s just belief in ourselves and belief in the work that you put in and the systems and the way the coaches prepare you as players,” Stamkos said. “But trust, that’s the word, we trust every guy that goes over that boards to do his job. Whether you score a goal or not, it’s the little things that you do. It’s the defending. It’s the blocked shots. It’s the sacrifice. It’s not complaining about your role. 

“It’s just going out and just playing as hard as you can for the next guy that sits beside you in that locker room.”

A shot at history awaits in the Stanley Cup Final. Defeating the Avalanche, who are 12-2 in the playoffs and coming off a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final, won’t be easy.

But the Lightning have already come this far. They’re ready to empty the tank one more time. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen here in the next 10-14 days, but we know we’re going to give it our all,” Stamkos said. “It’s gotten us this far again and it’s just a special group and a treat to be part of.”

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