The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.
For the first time since 2015, one of the NHL's premier teams will have an opportunity to play for a championship after finishing off the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night.
Anthony Cirelli scored the game-winning goal at 13:18 into overtime as goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy came up with 26 saves in the victory.
Anthony Cirelli, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: 1 Goal (Game-winner), 4 SOG, 4 Blocks
Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: 1 Goal, 6 SOG, 30:41 TOI
Devon Toews, D, New York Islanders: 1 Goal, 4 PIM, 3 Blocks
Semyon Varlamov, G, New York Islanders: 41 Saves, 2 Goals Allowed
Cirelli's Overtime Winner
If any of the Islanders defenders saw Anthony Cirelli sneak into the crease they were either too exhausted to stop him or too slow to move him.
The Tampa Bay center crept behind all five New York skaters, planted himself right in front of Semyon Varlomov and buried a feed from Barclay Goodrow below the goal line before the Isles' goalie could adjust. The result was a game-winning goal that moved the Bolts four wins away from the Stanley Cup.
Mathew Barzal was the closest player to Cirelli and seemed to have an opportunity to lift the center's stick, but ended up reacting late. Cirelli instead moved right in front of the blue paint and out of the reach of any defender.
That the Lightning forward was in a position to make the play at all was impressive.
Not only was Cirelli injured in the second period after colliding with New York's Anders Lee, the Islanders whiffed on both a point blank opportunity in overtime from Brock Nelson and a power play that came up empty moments before Cirelli's goal.
Tampa Nearly Wastes Second Period
If ever there were an opportunity to blow the Islanders out of Game 6, the second period provided it and then some.
Tampa Bay entered the second frame at its defensive peak, with ample scoring opportunities and still came up empty. It was one of the most lopsided 20 minutes of the series and somehow it led to zero edge for either team.
Through 10 minutes of play the Islanders had zero shots on goal with just two shot attempts total. Overall, the Bolts were outshooting New York 24-6.
Yet the score remained 1-1. No harm, no foul, little action.
The defensive presence from both sides required the Lightning to completely interrupt any offensive opportunity while the Isles yet again relied on netminder Semyon Varlomov to turn aside the 10 shots he faced.
Varlomov was also called upon to shut down back-to-back Lightning power plays and Devon Toews was called for delay of game and Cal Clutterbuck was caught tripping.
Neither instance came back to hurt New York.
Instead the Bolts fought through obvious exhaustion in overtime and delivered an Eastern Conference title to Tampa Bay.
The Lightning are on to face the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 is set for Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.