TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning moved one step closer to their second straight championship, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final with a 1-0 Game 7 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night.
They’ll face the Montreal Canadiens, making their first appearance since winning the Cup in 1993, in a series that begins in Tampa on Monday night.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 18 shots he faced, as the Lightning clamped down defensively on the Islanders in the elimination game. This was the fourth straight series in which Vasilevskiy has pitched a shutout in the Lightning’s elimination game.
“I don’t think we can say anything more about him. He’s the best in the world for a reason. He’s the steady rock that allows us to play with pace, play with confidence and play with a lead,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
With the win, the Lightning moved to 14-0 in the playoffs after a loss in the past two postseasons. They haven’t dropped back-to-back playoff games since their infamous opening-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019.
“We have great leaders in this group. After a loss, we take it personally,” center Yanni Gourde said. “We want to jump right back in there after a loss. Our group has a ton of resiliency, and we showed that tonight.”
The Lightning scored the game’s only goal with a short-handed tally at 1:49 of the second period. With forward Barclay Goodrow in the penalty box for cross-checking, Tampa Bay center Anthony Cirelli waited out three Islanders defending him against the boards to find a streaking Gourde coming from the bench. Gourde snapped a quick shot that beat New York goalie Semyon Varlamov for his fifth goal of the postseason and a 1-0 Lightning lead.
“It’s disappointing because that was an opportunity for us to do something against them. They made a play and we weren’t paying enough attention, and it ends up in the back of the net,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said of his team’s power play, which was the only one for either team in Game 7.
The Lightning dominated play throughout the game, energized from the start from playing at home and getting a key player back in their lineup in Nikita Kucherov, who left Game 6 after one shift after suffering an undisclosed injury following a cross-check from Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.
Kucherov, who leads the playoffs with 27 points in 18 games, said, “There was no question if I was going to play or not” in Game 7.
But Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he wasn’t so sure.
“I didn’t feel the same way. I’m glad he did, and that’s the only vote that counts. It was dicey,” said Cooper, who noted that Kucherov was questionable for Game 7 earlier in the day. “That was a big push for our room. I don’t know if the players thought he was playing.”
The Lightning dominated the first period in offensive zone time, leading the Islanders 22-10 in shot attempts, but were unable to break through in a scoreless first frame thanks to 15 saves from Varlamov.
The Islanders had a 20-16 shot attempt advantage in the second period. The Lightning ended up having a 31-18 advantage in shots on goal, as the Islanders couldn’t find the equalizer.
This was the Lightning’s first Game 7 since losing to the Washington Capitals — coached by Trotz — in the Eastern Conference finals in 2018. This is their third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final under Cooper, losing to Chicago in 2015 before winning in the Edmonton bubble over the Dallas Stars last summer.
For the Islanders, it was the second straight season the Lightning defeated them in the third round of the playoffs.
“Being down one goal in Game 7 of the conference final? You’ll take that. Credit them for locking us down in the third period,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal said. “It’s not our time. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
Barzal was emotional in his postgame news conference when speaking about the loss.
“It sucks getting back to this point and falling short again,” he said, getting choked up when discussing how hard it was to see the team’s veteran players in the locker room following the defeat. “I have a few more years, but you want to win for those guys.”
The loss means that New York’s Game 6 overtime win was the final Islanders game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The team moves to a new arena at Belmont Park next season.
“This group is special. To me, it’s undeniable. This group believed we could do this,” Trotz said. “It’s just a lot of pain. They gave it their all.”