USATSI_9311192_154158418_lowresSteven Stamkos returned to the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven, but it wasn’t enough and the Pittsburgh Penguins locked up the 2-1 victory to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Penguins will face the San Jose Sharks for all the marbles, with Game One of that series commencing on Monday.

The goal-scoring came in the second period on Thursday, with Bryan Rust providing both goals for the Penguins and Jonathan Drouin picking up the sole marker for the Lightning. Pittsburgh outshot the Lightning 39 to 17, but they were unable to capitalize on five power play opportunities.

The much-awaited return of Stamkos was intended to give a boost to Tampa and it accomplished that in some intangibles areas, but the forward managed just under a dozen minutes of ice time and posted two shots on goal. He didn’t see any time on the power play or penalty kill.

Naturally, it’s understandable that Stamkos wouldn’t be pushed into the fire in his first game back since March 31 and nobody would fault him for attempting a return.

But the Penguins were just the better team on Thursday night, with Sidney Crosby posting 23 minutes of ice time and registering six shots on goal. He secured nearly five minutes on the power play alone, while Evgeni Malkin played 18 minutes – including over five man-advantage minutes – and dominated in the faceoff circle.

Tampa netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 of 39 shots and often stood on his head for the Lightning, but it wasn’t enough. While the defensive effort was strong for the visitors, with Victor Hedman turning in an impressive 30-minute game, the Penguins were able to close up shop when it mattered.

Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray continued to be the big story, stopping 16 of 17 shots for the big win.

And Crosby, true to form, stunned some fans by hoisting the earned Prince of Wales trophy. This bucking of superstition, something he also did in 2009 when his club defeated the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup, is something he’s familiar with and something that could well signify his intentions going forward.

The Sharks, for their part, didn’t touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl after they finished off the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.

Will it matter? We’ll have more analysis of the Stanley Cup series in the coming days.

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