Bolts head for the Finals after close win

by Gary Shelton on June 26, 2021

in general

Gourde scored a short-handed goal./CHUCK MULLER

Saturday, 4 a.m.

At first glance, the temptation is to give most of the credit to Andre Vasilevskiy.

After all, it was Vasy who slammed the door...again.

For the fourth straight series, Vasilevskiy pitched a shutout in the close-out game, snuffing the New York Islanders in 1-0 semifinal victory that advanced the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals against Montreal.

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But before you get carried away with the Big Cat, consider the guard dogs in front of him.

Yes, Vasilevskiy is amazing, and in deciding games, he is bulletproof. "Special," is the word Lightning coach Jon Cooper uses to describe him. On the other hand, he had to stop only 18 shots. The defense, on the other hand, blocked 21 and kept the Islanders at bay for most of the evening. "Warrior mode," Cooper called it.

It was yet another bounce-back win for the Bolts, and yet another third period in which they made all the plays. And it led to a second straight trip to the finals.

"It's all well and good to, one day, put on your headstone that you won a Stanley Cup," Cooper said. "But to do it two years in a row, or multiple times, now your team is special. Years down the road. people will say 'that Tampa team for some time was a hell of a team. You can put stamp on that if you win it again."

The Bolts didn't have much offense, either, but the only goal it needed was a shorthanded attempt by Yanni Gourde on a play started by Ryan McDonagh.

The Bolts are now 14-0 over the last two years after losing a game.

“Never doubt them," Cooper said. "We’ve come such a long way. "

Vasilevskiy did have big saves during the game, however.

“I don’t think we can say anything more," forward Steven Stamkos said. "We always talk about it, but he’s the best in the world for a reason. He’s the steady rock that allows us to go out there and play with pace, play with confidence. play with the lead. He made some saves when he needed to , but we had huge blocks at the end of the game."

The Bolts' Nikita Kucherov was able to play despite questions after his Game Six injury.

"I  don’t think I’ve ever seen  our fans that crazy before a game," Stamkos said. "I heard the Kuch chants during warm-ups. Guys are warriors. They're playing through so much at this time of year it’s just amazing to see the effort everyone puts in. "

Said Kucherov: “There was no question I was going to play. You’ve got to sacrifice yourself to play with the boys."

McDonagh and Mikail Sergachev each had five blocks in the win.

"We blocked a couple of shots before the goal," said Gourde. "Without those, I don't think we score that goal."

Cooper praised the beaten Islanders.

“The Islanders are as good a team as we’ve played in two years," Cooper said. :Nothing was easy, not even the 8-0 game. Things just went our way. That’s as close as two teams can be. They're so damn tough, so well-coached and they play so hard."

“The Bolts are just the seventh defending Stanley Cup champion in the last 30 years to advance to the Final, following Pittsburgh (1991-92 & 2016-17), Detroit (1997-98 & 2008-09), Dallas (1999-2000) and New Jersey (2000-01). The only teams to repeat in that span are the Penguins (both times) and Red Wings (1997-98).

The Finals begin Monday night at Amalie Arena against Montreal. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8 p.m.

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