Cirelli’s late goal moves Bolts to Cup Finals

by Gary Shelton on September 18, 2020

in general

Cirelli scored the overtime winner./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

"Hello Stanley?"

"Anthony here. Anthony Cirelli. That's right. Lightning forward. You can be forgiven if you forgot all about me. Well, until late in the evening on Thursday, that is.

"Yeah. I scored a goal. Which means that me and my teammates are coming for your Cup. That's right. See you Saturday.

"And don't plan to go home early."

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL's Eastern Conference Final Thursday night, outlasting the New York Islanders in a 2-1, overtime victory. It cinched the Bolts' third trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history.

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Anthony Cirelli, who came back after a nasty spill in a collision with Anders Lee, scored the winning goal with 6:42 to play in the overtime period.

The Lightning will play the Dallas Stars beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“It was a hell of a play by Goody (Barclay Goodrow) to get that to me," Cirelli said. "The emotions are so high. I  think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation, We’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

It's easy to look at Cirelli as being a man for his team. His offense has sagged during the post-season, and he seemed to be hurt after the collision with Lee. But there he was in overtime, knocking the puck off the far post and then off a pad of goalie Semyon Varlamov into the goal.

"Yeah, to do it basically on one leg, too," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I try to disclose injuries, but it was pretty clear what happened on that. For him to come back was pretty remarkable."

The Bolts have knocked on the door before, losing to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. They beat Calgary in 2004.

“Regardless of if there were fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief are unparalleled," Cooper said. "How you feel inside. when you look back at this, and it’s not over, we’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days. This might be one of the hardest cups ever to win."</p>The Bolts were having trouble getting goals from their offense in the final two games, scoring only on a pair of Victor Hedman goals. But Cirelli ended the drought.

“I think Tony has been playing really well for us," said teammate Blake Coleman. "It hasn’t shown up always on the scoresheet, but he's   a huge part of our team. To lose him there for a little while was a big blow. He’s warrior. It was great to have him back, and . to see him get rewarded is awesome.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots, include a breakaway by Brock Nelson in overtime.

It was the third straight series the Lightning finished with an overtime goal. However, Victor Hedman says not to worry about the team being tired.

"We had four months to rest before the playoffs started," Hedman said. "We’re a confident group. We’re in the Finals. We have a lot of energy. We’re super excited. This is not a time to think about how you feel. This is when you go after it. We have to go out and empty the tank every time.”

For the Lightning, it is time to savor the moment. And to seize it.</p>

"Brendan Morrow (a former Bolts' player) has always stuck with me," Cooper said. "He was a big reason we made it (to the Finals)  in 2015. When he first came into the league,, he went to the Finals his first year. I think I went my second full year.

"He said 'cherish the moment and never take anything for granted because you never know when you’ll get back.' You’re cheering for guys like Brendan. You never know. For this group to go to a conference finals four out of six years, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s really really hard to win in this league. You need a lot of things to go right."</p>

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