Forget losing to the Penguins. Forget getting shutout in two and a half games by Washington. Oh, and you can definitely forget being swept by Columbus. The Tampa Bay Lightning have broken through. The Tampa Bay Lightning are moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Anthony Cirelli put the puck in net during yet another overtime game against the New York Islanders to win Game 6, 2-1. It is clear this team really likes the pressure and intensity of the next goal winning it.
The Bolts are set to face the Dallas Stars of the Western Conference in Game 1 of the Finals on Saturday, Sept. 19.
Stars Have Shined in Bubble
The Stars took the roller coaster ride all the way to this point in the season. This does not mean the Bolts will underestimate them. Heading into Oct. 19, they sat at 5-8-1, with one win in their first nine games. Then, they turned it on. The Stars went on a 36-14-6 run from Oct. 19 to Feb 29.
Through four games in March, the Stars did not win a game. Then the season stop. In the return, the Stars looked shakey in the round-robin, winning one of three games. But despite being outscored the entire playoffs, Dallas found themselves atop the Western Conference to advance to the Finals for the first time since 2000.
Cue “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC
Tampa Bay knows to never underestimate any opponent after last season. If they want to raise the Cup at the end of the Finals, Dallas cannot be an exception. The key players need to stay on top of their game.
Entering the Finals, Nikita Kucherov leads the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs in assists and points. Victor Hedman and Brayden Point have both scored nine goals each to help lead the Lightning to this point (no pun intended). If the Bolts should win the Cup, both of these players built strong cases for the Conn Smythe Award.
With all that has been said, credit needs to be given to the last line of defense for the Lightning: goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasy has played in all 19 games for Tampa Bay. No backups necessary. Vasilveskiy owns a 1.82 GAA and a .931 save percentage.
Two Non-Traditional Hockey Towns
Because when you think hockey, Florida and Texas both come to mind first. Naturally. Not really. Despite the association of hockey to winter, snow and Canada, we will see an all southern Stanley Cup Finals. Ironically, this series will still be played entirely in Canada, the first time since 1989 this will happen. This will also be the first Cup Finals to be played entirely at one location since 1928.