NHL playoffs results daily: Steven Stamkos sends Lightning to Stanley Cup Final

Game 6: Lightning 2, Rangers 1 | Tampa Bay wins series 4-2

Who was the guy? Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had a career year this season at age 32, and with that performance keeping up so far in these playoffs, it was only fitting Stamkos would be the one to propel his team to its third straight Stanley Cup Final. Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin was stellar all night, but Stamkos found a way to beat him twice – including, crucially, the third-period game winner just 21 seconds after the Rangers had tied the score. You could make a case for Lightning coach Jon Cooper here, too, since Tampa Bay’s commitment to grinding out this win was evident from start to finish. But Stamkos, as the captain, is also a tone-setter there – and the fact that he scored both goals gives him the edge.

What was the key? With how talented the Lightning are up and down the lineup, the old “knows how to win” line can feel trite sometimes when talking about them. But Saturday was the perfect example of why it’s not. Yes, Tampa Bay’s stars shined – Andrei Vasilevskiy was his usual closeout-game self, Stamkos scored twice, Ondrej Palat had two assists and the Lightning’s star defensemen controlled the game as always.

But there’s something to be said for the Lightning, with all that skill, staying within themselves and playing responsibly all night, trusting they would break through eventually. That’s been their formula in these kinds of games for a while now: They have scored two or fewer goals in their past six closeout games. Vasilevskiy’s dominance in those games has been a big part of that, of course. But the Lightning clearly knows that if they commit to shutting down their opponents, eventually their talent will win out. That keeps proving true.

Key stat: The Lightning had 12 takeaways to three giveaways. Granted, these might be the two most dubious statistical categories in terms of how the league tracks and counts them, but in this case, the numbers feel true to how the Lightning played Saturday. Tampa Bay largely took care of the puck when it had possession, pressured responsibly but successfully when it did not, and it rode those elements to a commanding win that did not feel as close as it was on the scoreboard (a testament to Shesterkin ). Combine it with the Lightning’s willingness to block shots on the penalty kill, and it was a coach’s dream performance.

The moment it was over: The Rangers did get a decent look off an offensive zone faceoff with about 15 seconds left. But once Mika Zibanejad’s shot was stopped and deflected behind the net, the Lightning weren’t giving New York another chance. That was it.

The moment of the game: It has to be Stamkos’ response goal. You felt for Shesterkin, who just couldn’t close his mitt on Stamkos’ initial shot. For as great as he was all night, Shesterkin will likely want both goals back. But it was classic Lightning to rip momentum back instantly after Frank Vatrano’s power-play tally 21 seconds earlier – just as the Rangers finally saw some hope. Bonus shoutout to Palat, who continued an outstanding postseason with the stretch pass that sprang the rush.

Rangers worry meter: ⛳️🏌️‍♂️

Lightning worry meter: 🤠

Three stars

Coming up Wednesday

Lightning at Avalanche, 8 pm ET (Game 1)

(Photo of, from left, the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman celebrating Stamkos’ deciding goal: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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