Regardless of the game, winning back-to-back championships titles is rare since it’s so hard. Injuries, egos, contract demands and the N.H.L. salary cap often derail second title runs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, though, are near accomplishing something even harder: Winning three Stanley Cups in a row. The 2-time champions beat the Rangers, 2-1, to win the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday and can return to the Stanley Cup finals, where they may face the Colorado Avalanche starting Wednesday in Denver.
No team has been to a few straight Stanley Cup finals for the reason that Edmonton Oilers teams led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier within the mid-Eighties, and the Islanders were the last team to win three straight Cups once they won 4 consecutive titles 40 years ago from 1980 to 1984.
The Lightning may not get the national attention of a few of the clubs within the league’s greater markets, or its Canadian teams. They play in Tampa, a Florida tourist destination where a star named Tom Brady, quarterback for the Buccaneers, grabs many of the sporting headlines.
But quietly and empathically the Lightning have built a dynasty under Coach Jon Cooper and their captain, Steven Stamkos, who has been the core of the team’s success. Now 32, the middle from suburban Toronto has played his entire 14-year profession in Tampa and helped construct an also-ran right into a perennial contender.
With 522 profession goals, including playoffs, he trails only two guys named Ovechkin and Crosby amongst energetic players. He has also been the glue that has helped keep his high-flying teammates together, including his linemates, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Tampa Bay’s roster includes players with a combined 204 playoff games, probably the most of any team.
Stamkos added to his stellar profession when he scored the Lightning’s two goals, including the game-winner late within the third period Saturday, to complete off the Rangers.
“It’s great to attain a few goals in an enormous game like this, but when I didn’t rating and we won, I’d have been just as completely happy,” he said after the sport.
Stamkos has scored nine goals thus far within the N.H.L. playoffs, however the Lightning won the series in convincing fashion by dominating the Rangers in nearly every facet of the sport. Tampa Bay overcame a two-game deficit and won the last 4 games of the series, outscoring the Rangers, 12-5. The Lightning committed few errors, which kept the Rangers’ top-ranked power play off the ice. The young Rangers, within the playoffs for the primary time in five seasons, did not rating at even strength within the last 4 games of the series.
On Saturday, the rating and the shots on goal were deceivingly close, and the statistics would have been more lopsided if not for the good play of Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin. The Lightning had way more quality scoring probabilities, and the Rangers, who had won all five elimination games throughout the playoffs, looked deflated after a disheartening loss in Game 5 in Latest York on Thursday.
While Shesterkin desperately tried to maintain the Rangers in the sport, his counterpart, Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, was hardly tested. He stopped 20 shots and won his eighth consecutive clinching game, six of which were shutouts.
Tampa Bay has now won 11 straight playoff series, something Cooper attributed to the continued drive of his players.
“Nobody would fault them” if the players let up, he said. “Hey, you’ve won one, you won two, and to return back and go for a 3rd.”
The Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the primary round and swept the Florida Panthers after that. Then the Rangers broadsided them in the primary two games of the series in Latest York.
However the Lightning showed why and the way they keep winning championships. They found their footing when the series moved to Tampa, improved with each game and were the far sharper team on Saturday. They skated quickly, made crisp passes and scooped up errant passes by the Rangers. They dominated the primary period, attempting 25 shots while the Rangers managed 12.
Shesterkin held Tampa at bay, even cleansing up his own mess. After an try and clear the puck was intercepted by Riley Nash of the Lightning, he stopped a tip-in by Patrick Maroon. He used his right pad to stop a tip-in attempt by Pierre-Édouard Bellemare and denied Anthony Cirelli on a breakaway.
Within the second period, Shesterkin robbed Kucherov, Tampa Bay’s top scorer, when he tried to backhand the puck past him.
But in any case the frantic stops by Shesterkin, Tampa Bay scored after Stamkos raced past an injured Ryan Strome and fired a wrist shot from the highest of the circle.
The Rangers finally had an influence play probability within the third period when Corey Perry hit Filip Chytil within the face with a stick. Tampa blocked the entire Rangers’ shots.
The Rangers finally scored on one other power play when Stamkos was called for holding and Frank Vatrano fired a shot off a face-off that skidded past Vasilevskiy.
Whatever momentum the Rangers gained vanished 21 seconds later. Stamkos, coming out of the penalty box, raced toward the web, took a pass from Kucherov and shot the puck. Shesterkin grabbed it along with his glove, however the puck ricocheted out and Stamkos’s leg bumped it into the web. After a review, the goal stood.
Now Tampa Bay will face the Avalanche, who’ve had loads of time to contemplate their next opponent. They finished off the Edmonton Oilers within the Western Conference finals nearly every week ago. They were the very best team within the West within the regular season with 119 points, and so they’re 12-2 thus far within the playoffs, including sweeps of the Nashville Predators and the Oilers.
Colorado has allowed just 40 goals to Tampa’s 41, however the Avalanche rating considerably more often, leading all teams with 65 goals to the Lightning’s 52.
They’re led by Nathan MacKinnon, the fast, creative center, and defenseman Cale Makar, whom Wayne Gretzky recently called the very best two-way player since Bobby Orr.
Colorado won its two games against Tampa Bay this season, by one goal every time. But it could be without Nazem Kadri and Andrew Cogliano, each who’ve injured fingers. It’s also unclear whether goalie Darcy Kuemper will start Game 1.
The Rangers may have all summer to heal their injuries and take into consideration how they blew a two-game lead against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Gerard Gallant, the Rangers’ coach, said a grueling schedule — 20 playoff games in 40 days — wore down his club.
The sting of a Stanley Cup run ending too soon will endure.
“I’m empty,” said Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, who then paused an extended time. “I don’t want it to be over.”
Cooper, the Lightning coach, can’t consider it shouldn’t be for his team.
“Whenever you’re growing up in Canada, you mostly dream about having your name on the Stanley Cup,” he said. “And to get there the primary time, it was a dream come true. To get there a second time the following yr was like a dream, like there’s no way we’re going back. And to go a 3rd time is unthinkable.”