Lightning advance to Stanley Cup Final; Anthony Cirelli scores overtime winner

It took a few seconds for everyone to realize what had just happened. After all, the play seemed to unfold in slow motion as the puck went off the post, slid across the goal line and then hit netminder Semyon Varlamov’s far skate before settling inside the net.

And just like that, Anthony Cirelli’s overtime tally sent the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Yeah, obviously it was a hell of a play by [Barclay Goodrow] to fake backhand and get that to me,” said Cirelli, who has been known to score overtime clinchers before — he clinched a Memorial Cup for Oshawa in 2015 and the J. Robertson Cup (OHL championship) for Erie in 2017 with them.

“The emotions are just so high,” he added after Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win over the Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. “We worked all year. Our goal was to be playing for the Stanley Cup and we’re here now. I think it’s every kid’s dream to be in this situation, so I think we’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

Earlier in the game, Cirelli looked as if he would be done for the night following a collision near his team’s blue line with the Islanders’ Anders Lee. He missed the last five minutes of the second period. He said he was in pain, but he was able to finish the game.

“Tony has been playing really well for us and maybe hasn’t shown up as much on the scoresheet as he’d like to but he’s been a huge part of our team and [a] reason that we’re winning a lot of games,” said Blake Coleman. “Obviously to lose him there was a big blow for a little bit but, you know, he’s got our team mentality. He’s a warrior. It was big to have him back in the third and overtime, obviously, and then to see him get rewarded like that is pretty special.”

The overtime winner was his third goal and sixth point of the postseason. A 2015 third-round draft pick of the Lightning, the 23-year-old forward was coming off a career year before bubble hockey; he posted 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 68 games.

Tampa Bay will now face off with the Western Conference champion Stars in the Stanley Cup Final beginning Saturday. The franchise’s lone Stanley Cup championship was in 2004 when it defeated the Flames in seven games. This year marks the team’s second trip in the last five to the last round; the Lightning lost in 2015 to the Blackhawks in six games.

The one thing they opted to do differently from 2015: they touched the Prince of Wales Trophy.

“It didn’t work last time, so we tried obviously touching the trophy this year,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who went to get the trophy with captain Steven Stamkos, who has not suited up in the bubble because of an injury. “That was a no-brainer for us and we’re not superstitious but obviously [we] didn’t touch it last time, so this year we did. That’s the end of it. We won the trophy and now we’re going for the next one.”

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