Lightning return to Stanley Cup Final with Game 7 win vs. Islanders
The Tampa Bay Lightning took another step toward a repeat Friday night when they defeated the New York Islanders 1-0 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
The Lightning are the first defending champions to reach the Stanley Cup Final since the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
Yanni Gourde scored the lone goal shorthanded 1:49 into the second period off assists from Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 18 saves to keep the Islanders at bay and earn yet another shutout.
It was the first Game 7 in league history to end 1-0 with a short-handed goal. Vasilevskiy also set an NHL record with shutouts in four consecutive series-clinching games.
The Lightning will face the Montreal Canadiens in the championship round starting Monday.
The Lightning also knocked off the Islanders in the third round last year in the Edmonton bubble then beat the Dallas Stars in six games in the final to win their first title since 2004.
They finished third in the Central Division in 2021 as Nikita Kucherov missed the entire regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery. The team’s ability to put him on long-term injured reserve allowed it to exceed the salary cap and keep the championship core together.
The 2018-19 Hart Trophy winner and 2020 postseason scoring leader returned for Game 1 of the first round and scored a league-best 27 points before he was injured on his first shift on Game 6 of the semifinals when he was cross-checked by the Islanders’ Scott Mayfield.
But Kucherov returned Friday night and played more than 16 minutes, and the Lightning will be in great shape for the final round. Brayden Point, who put together a nine-game goal streak Steven Stamkos, Killorn and Victor Hedman are among the NHL’s top postseason scoring leaders.
The Gourde-Barclay Goodrow-Blake Coleman line provides energy and timely goals, and the Lightning power play has been dominant.
The key to a repeat will be goalie Vasilevskiy, who was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the fourth consecutive season and is expected to win for the second time.
He hasn’t lost two games in a row in the past two postseasons, and he clinched the 2020 final and the first three rounds this season with shutouts. He also picked up a shutout in Game 5 against the Islanders.