The Lightning are the first defending champions to reach the Stanley Cup Final since the Penguins won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
The Islanders were one win away from reaching hockey’s biggest stage for the first time since 1984, but playing away in front of a raunchy crowd, were too much to overcome.
Tampa Bay beat the Islanders, 1-0, in a fast paced Game 7 of their conference final playoff series at Amalie Arena in Tampa, on Friday to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year.
Tampa Bay also knocked off the Islanders in the third round last year in the Edmonton bubble then beat the Dallas Stars in six games in the final to win their first title since 2004.
They finished third in the Central Division in 2021 as Nikita Kucherov missed the entire regular season recovering from offseason hip surgery. The team’s ability to put him on long-term injured reserve allowed it to exceed the salary cap and keep the championship core together.
Kucherov returned back in the lineup Friday night and played more than 16 minutes, the Lightning was in great shape for the final round with him in the lineup. Brayden Point, who put together a nine-game goal streak Steven Stamkos, Killorn and Victor Hedman are among the NHL’s top postseason scoring leaders.
The Isles had plenty chances to score, especially when Mathew Barzal was glaring down at an open net late in the third period, but he could not control the bouncing puck to score.
“I’ve got a few more years, but you want to win for those guys,” Barzal said. “It hurts seeing those guys in the locker room, knowing how close we were.”
The key to a Stanley Cup repeat will be goalie Vasilevskiy, who was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the fourth consecutive season and is expected to win for the second time.
“Our fans kicked it up a gear,” Tampa Bay’s captain, Steven Stamkos, said, “and it was an amazing atmosphere tonight.”
Vasilevskiy agreed. “That was a textbook Game 7,” he said.
And now Tampa Bay will aim to build at least part of what the Islanders had in the ’80s.
Tampa Bay have ridden the hot goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who recorded his fourth consecutive series-clinching shutout, dating to the Lightning win over the Dallas Stars in last year’s finals. He made 18 saves in the win over the Islanders. Vasilevskiy’s teammates also blocked 21 shots against a scrappy Isles’ team.
The Montreal Canadiens have the long-term pedigree, but the Lightning want to cement their place in hockey history.
“It’s all well and good to one day put on your gravestone that you won a Stanley Cup,” Jon Cooper, the coach of the Lightning, said. “But to do it two years in a row, multiple times, now your team is special.”