Tampa Bay hold off Rangers to book return to Stanley Cup final
Published: Jun 12, 2022 08:00 PM

The two-time defending NHL champion Tampa Bay Lightning are headed back to the Stanley Cup final for a third straight year after beating the New York Rangers 2-1 to clinch the Eastern Conference final.

The Lightning, who trailed 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, won their fourth straight game for a 4-2 series triumph and a chance to take on Western Conference champions Colorado.

The Avalanche host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final in Denver on Wednesday.

Captain Steven Stamkos scored both goals for the Lightning. He opened the scoring with an angled wrist shot that got past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin at 10:43 of the second period.

Stamkos was in the penalty box when Frank Vatrano knotted the score at 1-1 on a power play at 13:07 of the third.

Just 21 seconds later Stamkos scored again. His initial shot was saved by Shesterkin - who made 29 saves - but the rebound bounced off his leg and found the net.

"These are the games you live for as a kid," said Canada's Stamkos. "It was everything I thought it would be and more, to give ourselves a chance to go to the final three years in a row is something that's amazing and to have a part in it tonight was certainly icing on the cake.

"It was an unbelievable team effort." Stamkos added after Tampa Bay dominated possession throughout the contest.

Ondrej Palat had two assists and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 saves for the Lightning, who are trying to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.

They're the first team to reach three straight Stanley Cup finals since the Edmonton Oilers in 1983-85.

Stamkos acknowledged that the Lightning got off to a slow start in the series after a nine-day layoff following their sweep of the Florida Panthers in the previous round.

"We stuck with it," he said. "There's no panic on this team."

Now they face a formidable opponent in the Avalanche, who swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final to reach the championship series for the first time since winning the title in 2001.

The Avs will try to claim a third Stanley Cup, having also lifted the trophy in 1996.

"We know what it takes," Stamkos said. "But now we've got the best team in the league in the Colorado Avalanche. They have it all.

"We have a huge challenge, but tonight we'll enjoy the victory."