The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 2-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time.
The Lightning, who won the best-of-7 series 4-3, either will host the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won the Stanley Cup twice in the past five seasons, or visit the Anaheim Ducks, who won it in 2007, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC).
Tampa Bay defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games to win the 2004 Stanley Cup.
The Lightning finished the regular season with 108 points, six more than the Blackhawks and one fewer than the Ducks. The Western Conference Final is tied 3-3 with Game 7 is Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
In the regular season, Tampa Bay went 1-0-1 against the Blackhawks. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stopped 65 of 67 shots and had a shutout. Captain Steven Stamkos had two goals and three points. Forwards Brad Richards and Marcus Kruger scored for Chicago.
Bishop allowed four goals in the two wins against the Ducks. Lightning forward Brian Boyle had two goals. Ryan Getzlaf had two points to lead Anaheim in scoring. Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 32 shots in one of the losses.
The Lightning are the first team since the Boston Bruins in 1988 to reach the Stanley Cup Final after being swept in the first round the previous year (by the Montreal Canadiens).
The Lightning advanced to the Cup Final for the same reasons they were successful in the regular season. The "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for 28 of the 55 goals the Lightning have scored in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were three of Tampa Bay's top four scorers in the regular season: Johnson had 29 goals, Kucherov 28 and Palat 16.
Stamkos, who led the Lightning with 43 goals during the regular season, didn't score in the first eight games of the playoffs but has been on a tear since. He has a goal in four of six games, six of his past nine, and has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 12 games.
Tampa Bay finished one point behind the Atlantic Division-winning Canadiens, who it defeated in six games in the second round, and coach Jon Cooper's impact on the Lightning should be noted. In his first two full seasons, he has led Tampa Bay to the playoffs twice and was a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year last season. He isn't afraid to make unorthodox moves, such as moving Stamkos from his natural position at center to wing (a role that restarted Stamkos' scoring) and using seven defensemen and 11 forwards, which has been the case in nine of the past 11 games.
The Lightning are 9-0 when scoring first in the postseason and have scored a power-play goal in 9 of 20 games, going 7-for-22 against the Rangers.
Bishop has played his best games at the right time, including his 22-save, Game 7 shutout against New York. Following a loss in the playoffs, he is 7-1. He had a 31-save shutout in a 2-0, Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Detroit Red Wings and a 26-save shutout against the Rangers in a 2-0 win in Game 5. That followed two straight games when Bishop allowed five goals.
In each round, a different player stepped up. In the first round, Johnson had six goals. In the second round, Kucherov had six goals, and in the conference final, Stamkos had four goals. Five players have at least six goals and 15 players have scored.
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Author: David Satriano | NHL.com Staff Writer