(Photo via Tampa Bay Lightning)
By Jake Ricker
The Lightning now one win away from making their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final, and they had a chance to do it at home. The Rangers would undoubtedly be playing their best hockey as they looked to avoid elimination. The Lightning would again be without Brayden Point, who was close to coming back but did not take part in warmups.
The Lightning got off to a good start picking up some early chances, but Shesterkin was locked in and kept them off the board. The Lighting continued their strong push and were outshooting the Rangers 12-5 halfway through the first period. Cirelli was playing especially well, creating turnovers and grade-A chances in close, but he just couldn't find the back of the net. Shesterkin was once again keeping the Ranger's season alive as the Lightning stormed up and down the ice all period long.
Meanwhile, Vasilevskiy, while not as busy, was locked in as well. The Lightning continued to shut down and attempt the Rangers had at moving the puck east to west which is where they found most of their success in games one and two. Both teams were playing hard, and neither got sloppy, with no penalties called in the first 20 minutes. This was an issue for the Rangers as a large portion of their goals came from the man advantage. As long as the Lightning stayed out of the box and continued to play as well as they did 5-on-5, it was a matter of time before they scored.
Despite all this, we would head into the first intermission with the game still scoreless. Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin were not willing to budge and looked to be the hero for their team. The momentum was on the Lightning's side, though, and they would look to carry that into the second.
Cirelli got another great chance early in the period but was again denied, and it looked like the Lightning had picked up right where they left off. Things then started to get physical as Trouba laid a huge open-ice hit right on Corey Perry, who never even had the puck. There was no penalty called on the play, but luckily Perry was right back on his feet and ready to go for his next shift. The Rangers would then make a push for the first goal of the game, but Vasilevskiy and the Lighting defense held them off. After some pushing and shoving in front of the net, both teams picked up roughing minors, and we would play two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. The open ice did not help either team pick up more chances, though, and both penalties would expire.
The Crowd, still as loud as ever, was ready to explode if the Lighting could grab that first goal. Maroon, who had been playing well this series, picked up a great chance as he walked the puck right out in front but was again denied. Maroon was checked into the net on top of Shesterkin, drawing another crowd, except for this time, no penalties were handed out. Then the unexpected happened; despite so many great chances on both ends of the ice, Steven Stamkos fired a quick snapshot from the boards and put it right past Shesterkin to open the scoring and give the Lighting a 1-0 lead.
Hedman, who took a hit-up high earlier in the period, then headed down the tunnel leaving the Lighting shorthanded. While this was a huge loss at the time, the Lightning needed to keep their foot on the gas and keep the Rangers from capitalizing. The Lightning would later get their first chance on the power play but could not capitalize despite a few good looks. Vasilevskiy started to become a little busier as the Rangers pushed, but he would let nothing past him late in the period. We would head to the second intermission with the Lightning leading by one and the Rangers season on the line.
Hedman, who had been missing for most of the second period, was back on the bench for the final 20 minutes giving the Lighting another boost as they sprinted toward the finish line. Shesterkin was doing everything he could to keep the Rangers in this game, making save after save despite the Lightning throwing everything they had at him.
Stamkos would then take a holding call midway through the period sending the Rangers to the power play. Having found so much success on the man advantage in the past, the Rangers made sure to capitalize as Vatrano fried one home past Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one. Stamkos, now fresh out of the box, was not ready to be the reason his team lost this game, as just about a minute later, Stamkos sprung in on a breakaway and took a hard shot in close. Shesterkin made the initial save but could not hold onto the puck, causing it to bounce off Stamkos and into the back of the net. Shesterkin pleaded for the play to be reviewed, but even after a second look, the goal counted, and the Lightning had a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers made one last push with their backs against the wall, but the Lighting were having none of it and continued to shut down the Rangers 5-on-5. Shesterkin was then pulled, and the Rangers called a timeout to try and find a way to keep their season alive. Despite a few more chances, the Lightning defense and Vasilevskiy shut the door and secured a 2-1 win sending the Lightning back to the Finals for the third year in a row.
The Lightning played an excellent game from start to finish. Despite being down 0-2 after the first two games, this team never looked back and preceded to win four games in a row and secure their spot in the Finals. Vasilieveskiy was fantastic once again, and the Captain came through big, scoring twice. Now the Lightning will have their toughest challenge yet as they face the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Four more wins is all it takes but don't think they will come easy. The Lighting will need to take advantage early as the Avalanch will likely be rusty after their extended break. Point is also close to returning and should be back for game one, if not game two, which would give this team a huge boost.
Our Three Stars:
1. Stamkos (TBL)
2. Vasilevskiy (TBL)
3. Shesterkin (NYR)
Media's Three Stars:
1. Stamkos (TBL)
2. Vasilevskiy (TBL)
3. Shesterkin (NYR)
Want to start your journalism career by writing about the Tampa Bay Lightning? Send us a message via our contact form located in the upper right-hand corner under the more tab or send us a message via Twitter to get started.