For the third time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Lightning will play for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning punched their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night with a 2-1 overtime win over the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in the Edmonton bubble.
After an early goal by Islanders defenseman Devon Toews in the first period, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman tied the game at 1-1 just 2:13 later with his ninth goal of the postseason. For Hedman, his ninth goal tied Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey for the most goals scored by a defenseman in a single playoff before the Final.
Coffey went on to score an NHL record 12 goals by a defenseman while playing with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1985 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The game would remain tied through the remainder of regulation, with the Lightning dominating on the offensive side of the puck. Through 60 minutes of play, Tampa Bay had double the shot total of the Islanders, 42-21, but New York goalie Semyon Varlamov kept his team in the game with some great saves in goal.
The Lightning had a chance to close out the game twice in overtime on the power play after an Andy Greene double-minor penalty for high sticking late in the third period, as well as a too many men on the ice penalty for the Islanders near the halfway point of overtime.
However, Tampa Bay would get the winner at the 13:18 mark of the first overtime as Anthony Cirelli managed to slip behind the defense and get a quick shot off in front of the Islanders net. The puck ended up going off the post, sliding across the crease and banking off the back leg of Varlamov and over the goal line.
Now the Lightning will look to win their second Stanley Cup title in franchise history after winning it all in 2004 over the Calgary Flames in seven games. The team's other Stanley Cup Final appearance came in 2015 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
After a historic regular season in the 2018-19 season, Tampa Bay was embarrassed in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This playoffs in 2020 has been more about a chance of redemption for the Lightning, similar to the championship run for the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The Lightning were the highest-scoring team in the NHL during the regular season, averaging 3.47 goals per-game while averaging just 31.1 shots per-game. In the playoffs, Tampa Bay has averaged 3.11 goals per-game to go along with an average of 35.5 shots per-game.
Leading the way in scoring for the Lightning this postseason is forward Nikita Kucherov, who has 26 points (6+20) in 19 games played. He sits one point ahead of teammate Brayden Point, who has also played very well with 25 points (9+16) in 17 games.
With his assist on Hedman's goal on Thursday night, Kucherov tied the franchise record for most points in a single postseason with Brad Richards, who put up 26 points in the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to be outstanding in net for the Lightning, leading the NHL in the playoffs with 14 wins and a save percentage of .931. He also sits second in the league with an impressive 1.82 goals-against average (minimum of 10 games played). While the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is not likely to win that honor this year, Vasilevskiy certainly could be a favorite to be a winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa Bay will now move on to face the Western Conference champion Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Edmonton bubble.
Check out the complete schedule of games for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final here: