Sept. 18 (UPI) — The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the New York Islanders in a Game 6 overtime thriller to clinch a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Each team scored in the first period before Anthony Cirelli played the hero and lit the lamp in overtime for the 2-1 victory Thursday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
“The emotions are so high,” Cirelli told reporters. “We worked all year and our goal was to play for the Stanley Cup. We are here now. It’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation.”
The Lightning won the Eastern Conference finals series 4-2 and will face the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday at Rogers Place.
Devon Toews gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead when he beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky with a wraparound shot 4:15 into the first period. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman answered 2 minutes later when he flipped a follow-up shot past Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov and Vasilevsky kept it clean between the pipes for the next 53:32 of regulation to prompt overtime. The two netminders continued their strong play in the bonus period until Cirelli’s decisive sequence.
The Lightning center fought for the puck on the right flank, deep in Islanders territory, at the start of the play. He then passed off to Barclay Goodrow. The fellow Islanders center skated behind the net and deked a defender before he fired a pass back to Cirelli, who sent a point-blank shot by Varlamov’s stick side to sound the final horn.
Varlamov had 46 saves in the loss. Vasilevskiy had 26 saves for the Lightning.
The Lightning battle the Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday in Edmonton. The game will air on NBC.
Game 2 is scheduled for Monday at Rogers Place. No fans have been allowed in the NHL’s hub cities throughout the playoffs in Canada due to coronavirus pandemic safety precautions.
“It’s not over, but we’ve been a hotel for 54 straight days,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. There is two of us left standing.
“They are going through the exact same thing we are. You want your fans there, but it’s not about the fans, it’s about the players.”