The 2020 Stanley Cup Final is set! The Tampa Bay Lightning -- this summer's cardiac kids -- knocked out the New York Islanders with an Anthony Cirelli overtime goal. It's the third straight series the Lightning have clinched in an overtime game this summer, and it earns them the right square off against the Western Conference champion Dallas Stars.
The Lightning don't have much time to celebrate, with Game 1 on Saturday. The Stars enter the series with four days of rest, though Tampa Bay enters as favorites in the sportsbooks. Let the games begin!
Check out ESPN NHL Playoffs Today every day of the postseason until the Stanley Cup is handed out.
About last night ...
The Islanders scored first for the fifth consecutive game when Devon Toews slipped one past Andrei Vasilevskiy early in the first period. Victor Hedman then tied it. And then, the Lightning put on a dominant effort for long stretches, including 12 minutes when the Islanders didn't record a shot on goal, spanning from late in the first period to the middle of the second. Semyon Varlamov seemed to be having an unstoppable night, as the Lightning outshot the Islanders 48-27. The Lightning also got plenty of chances on the power play, but went 0-for-5 as New York's penalty kill looked extra sharp. Finally, Cirelli who won it in overtime.
"Exuberance and relief," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said afterward. For the Islanders, it meant an end to an incredible run. "This is one of the most resilient teams I've coached," Barry Trotz said. "And I've coached for a long time." Full recap
Overtime winner to clinch the series. Enough said.
Varlamov turned away 46 shots, a career playoff high. He was sensational for the entire Eastern Conference finals, posting a .921 save percentage on 203 shots.
Hedman is the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record nine goals in one postseason. Three of the previous four were on teams that won the Stanley Cup.
Next on the schedule
For the first time in NHL history, a coach will face off against his former assistant in a Stanley Cup Final. Rick Bowness was on Jon Cooper's bench in Tampa, but they had a mutual parting of ways after the playoff exit in 2018. The storylines in this series will be rich. The Stars haven't won it all since 1999. The Lightning since 2004. "Whoever raises that Cup, they'll have earned it, that's for sure," Cooper said.
"As for gas in the tank, I guess we'll see," Cooper said. "This is unlike any other Stanley Cup Final where we'd get days [to] rest. If you don't go seven, you usually get days rest. We're not here, but if you were going to tell me, 'Hey Coop, you get to play in the Stanley Cup Final. You're only going to get 45 hours to rest before the game, but you're going to get to play in it,' I'm taking that all day."
Quote of the day
"Ummm, my fingernails are gone." -- Lightning forward Patrick Maroon on what it's like being the first team in NHL history to clinch three consecutive series in overtime.
Superstition of the day
The Lightning were happy to embrace -- and touch -- the Prince of Wales Trophy, as 48 members of the team's traveling party walked onto the ice to accept it.
There's always the existential crisis for teams: to touch the conference trophy, or not? The Lightning decided to touch it after distancing themselves during their last trip to the Final, in 2015.
"It didn't work last time, so we tried touching the trophy this year," Hedman said. "That was a no-brainer for us. We're not superstitious, but obviously didn't touch it last time, so this year we did. That's the end of it. We won one trophy, and now we're going for the next one."
Injury revelation of the day
After teams are eliminated, we finally find out the reason why certain players were "unfit to play" -- or in past seasons, what those "upper-body" and "lower-body" injuries really were.
Islanders top-pairing defenseman Adam Pelech was a surprise scratch ahead of Game 6. It turns out, Pelech broke his wrist early in Game 5, but got through the rest of the game -- an additional 32 minutes -- on adrenaline. The injury requires surgery, and it was untenable for him to suit up in Game 6.
Bubble moment of the day
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has not played this postseason as he rehabs an undisclosed injury. He has, however, stayed in the bubble, and there's a slim chance he'll be available for the Stanley Cup Final.
Nonetheless, here he was in Game 6; no one looked happier.
An injured Steven Stamkos supporting his teammates pic.twitter.com/oPr5GeiKoU— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) September 18, 2020
"He's our captain, he's been our captain for almost every day that I've coached and he's a big reason why we're here," Cooper said afterward. "This season he hasn't played in the postseason, but he's a big reason we made the playoffs, he's a big reason we finished pretty high in the conference. What I loved most about it was the three assistant captains were going up there, but they wanted to make sure Stammer was a part of it, and he deserves to be a part of it. And that's probably why you get to positions we're in right now, is because everybody cares so much for each other, and they wanted to make sure he was in that picture."