I have a bit of a curse when it comes to watching ice hockey. The team that I support will, without fail, lose when it matters most. My picks for Stanley Cup finalists this year were the New York Rangers and Vegas Golden Knights. After the Rangers got knocked out, I put all my support behind the Carolina Hurricanes. After all, why not support the former Hartford Whalers? All of those teams saw defeat in the final hour, and now the New York Islanders have fallen to the curse of my support.
Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals was quite the exciting one. The game ended in overtime with a 2-1 victory for Tampa Bay, but even though the game was light on scoring, that didn’t stop the energy from being at its peak the entire time. This series was the New York Islanders’ first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 1993, and in this game, they proved that they deserved to make it this far. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 46 saves against Tampa Bay.
New York coach Barry Trotz said, “I’m real proud of them and the strides we made, but we’re obviously disappointed as a group.” Trotz continued, “This group felt two things: We felt we could represent the East, and the second thing is hopefully play for the Stanley Cup. We fell a little bit short.”
Both regular time goals were scored early into the first period. The Islanders were actually the first team of the night to score four minutes in, coming into the first period with good momentum behind them. Anders Lee took hold of the puck in the back right of the Tampa Bay zone, and pushed parallel with the blue line trying to position. Despite there being two Tampa Bay players between them, Lee was able to get the puck to Devon Toews who scored the goal. Toews took the puck right to the net, baiting Andrei Vasilevskiy to close that side up. Vasilevskiy actually overextended in an attempt to poke check the puck away from Toews, opening up the entire net. The Islanders defenseman wrapped around the back of the net and tucked the puck right in before Vasilevskiy was able to get his leg over.
Tampa Bay wasted no time tying up the game, scoring just two minutes after New York. Victor Hedman got his ninth goal of the playoffs with a rebound. This total is the third highest scored by a defenseman in a playoff year. The play started with Hedman collecting the puck in the right corner of the Tampa Bay zone and passing it to Erik Cernak, who was waiting with a slapshot prepared. Cernak shot the puck straight into Varlamov who blocked the puck off of a leg pad. Unfortunately for New York, Hedman had used the time after the pass to reposition himself in front of the goal and was able to get control of the puck just after it rebounded. Without skipping a beat, Hedman lifted the puck right over Varlamov’s shoulder. This was the fifth straight game that New York had lost a 1-0 lead.
The winning goal of the game came almost three whole periods’ worth of time later, with Tampa Bay’s goal 13 minutes into first overtime. By this time in the game, Tampa Bay had gotten 47 shots on goal, versus the Islanders’ 27. Semyon Varlamov was working quintuple overtime trying to keep his team in the game and was a big part of what allowed New York to get this far into the game. The series-ending goal was a frantic deflection from Anthony Cirelli. Barclay Goodrow took the puck behind the net in a move to get into a better scoring position but was quickly met on both sides by Islanders. In an attempt to just get the puck passed them, Goodrow backhanded the puck to his front, where Cirelli happened to be waiting. Not being one to miss a scoring chance, Cirelli redirected the puck off of the pass in the bottom left side of the net. The puck went in before Varlamov even had time to process what had happened.
After the game, Cirelli was quoted as saying, “The emotion is just so high, we worked all year. Our goal was to be playing for the Stanley Cup. We’re here now, so I think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning are now set to face off against the Dallas Stars for the Stanley Cup, with games beginning Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. EST.