The Tampa Bay Lightning had to wait a long time for redemption.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had to wait a long time for redemption.So having to go through another overtime to get back to the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t a big deal to them.
The Lightning’s patience and persistence paid off when Anthony Cirelli scored 13:18 into overtime to give them a 2-1 series-winning victory against the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday.
Tampa Bay will face the Dallas Stars in the Cup Final. Game 1 is in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Cup Final, on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“The emotions are so high,” Cirelli said. “We worked all year and our goal is 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.”
Video: TBL@NYI, Gm6: Cirelli clinches East Final in OT
This will be the Lightning’s third appearance in the Cup Final. They won their first championship in seven games against the Calgary Flames in 2004 and lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
Tampa Bay has nine players remaining who played in the 2015 Cup Final: goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, defensemen Victor Hedman and Braydon Coburn, and forwards Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Steven Stamkos, who has yet to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a lower-body injury, but he has not been ruled out for the championship series.
That group and coach Jon Cooper have been through a lot to get back to this point, including some heartbreak.
Tampa Bay came within one win of the Cup Final twice since 2015, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 conference final and to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 conference final in seven games after leading 3-2 in each series.
“Just getting here is such a grind,” Cooper said. “We’ve been so close. We’ve lost in some Game 7s. … But we’ve been knocking at the door and it can get frustrating and it can make the summers — timewise, they’re so short, but mentality-wise they’re long — and you just have to believe in your process. You have to believe in what you’re doing.”
That belief was shaken last season. The Lightning were the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup after tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the NHL record with 62 wins. But their Cup dreams were shattered when they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
The Lightning had to endure a long offseason after that, followed by a nearly four-and-half-month pause this season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
So when they began the postseason Aug. 3, they were determined to make the most of this opportunity for redemption.
They avenged the loss to the Blue Jackets by eliminating them in five games in the first round. After knocking off the Boston Bruins in five games in the second round, Tampa Bay needed six games to dispatch New York, but was not to be denied.
“We knew it was going to be tough and our group believes in one another, and that happens over the course of time,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We’re really thankful for the opportunity to be back in these playoffs coming out of the break, and now that we’re here, we’re really focused and determined to finish the job.”
Video: TBL@NYI, Gm6: Lightning earn Prince of Wales Trophy
That determination was tested against the Islanders, who pushed them to overtime in the final two games of the series. After New York pulled out a 2-1 win in the second overtime in Game 5, Tampa Bay was undeterred.
The Lightning came back and outshot the Islanders 48-27 in Game 6 and were rewarded when Cirelli finally scored the second goal they needed against goalie Semyon Varlamov.
It was their third series-winning victory in overtime in as many series. Brayden Point scored in overtime in Game 5 against Columbus, and Hedman scored in the second overtime in Game 5 against Boston.
“Our motivation is to win the trophy,” Hedman said. “That’s what we’re thinking about right now. But at the same time, we take it step by step here. We’ve got a veteran presence in the locker room that’s not going to let us get carried away. So we’ll obviously enjoy this tonight and we’ve got to really focus tomorrow.”
Following the postgame celebration, Cooper recalled a conversation he had with Brenden Morrow, a veteran forward with the Lightning when they played in the 2015 Cup Final. Morrow reached the Cup Final as rookie in 2000 with the Stars and lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils. It took Morrow until his final season in 2015 to get back, and he fell short again.
“He always told me, ‘Cherish the moment and never take anything for granted because you never know when you get back,'” Cooper said. ” …. We didn’t get it done that year, but he’s always stuck with me because you never know when you’re going to get back.”
The Lightning are back now, but they’re not satisfied. After spending nearly eight weeks in the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, they’re four wins from their goal.
“We’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days, and when people said, ‘Is this going to be one of the hardest Cups to win?’ It might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win,” Cooper said. “There’s two of us left standing.”