Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal...

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal against New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) during the second period in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.  Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA, Fla. — Spending what seemed like the entire postseason with their backs to the wall eventually was going to catch up with the Rangers. It finally did on Saturday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final as the Blueshirts, trying to stave off playoff elimination for a sixth time, weren’t able to do it.

Two goals by Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos were enough to knock the Rangers out of the playoffs, powering the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning to a 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the third straight season and will face the Western Conference champion Colorado Avalanche.

Stamkos’ second goal, on a two-on-one at 13:28 of the third period, broke a 1-1 tie. His initial shot was stopped by Igor Shesterkin, but the rebound went off Stamkos’ leg and into the net. Stamkos scored just 21 seconds after Frank Vatrano’s power-play goal at 13:07.

In three games at Amalie Arena in the series, the Rangers scored four goals, and all of them were on the power play.

For the Rangers, who made the playoffs this spring for the first time in five years — save for that weird experience in the Toronto COVID-19 bubble in 2020 — it was a sad ending to a tremendous season, one in which they finished with 110 points in the regular season and a second-place finish behind Carolina in the Metropolitan Division.

The Blueshirts rallied from 3-1 down against Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. They won that series on Artemi Panarin’s overtime goal in Game 7 at the Garden.

Then the Rangers came back again, this time from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the second round against Carolina.

But when the season ended Saturday, it hit the players hard. Chris Kreider, the longest-tenured Ranger, was asked to describe his emotions.

“Empty,’’ he said after a long pause. “Obviously, very sad.’’

“I don’t honestly have much to say,’’ Mika Zibanejad said. “I don’t want it to be over.’’

Defenseman Jacob Trouba said he would “take a couple days to reflect on things,’’ but in the moment, “it’s not a good feeling.’’

Shesterkin, who likely will win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie this season, played valiantly and gave the Rangers a chance against the bigger, more seasoned Lightning. He made 28 saves, many of them brilliant.

First-year Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who had been a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Coach of the Year, suggested that the Rangers were tired. They went the full seven games in each of their first two playoff series and were playing their 20th game of the postseason in 40 days.

Gallant said his team was fatigued and added that it had a lot to do with why they lost four straight games after winning the first two games of the series.

“Definitely,’’ he said.

“There’s no doubt it showed up. We go seven, seven [then six games against Tampa Bay], no, really, breaks,’’ he said. “I would have loved to have got by tonight and had two days off [before a Game 7 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden]. That would have been awesome. But that’s the way it goes.’’

With his team facing elimination for the sixth time in these playoffs, Gallant made some changes going into Game 6, the biggest one being the decision to scratch 21-year-old forward Kaapo Kakko and dress veteran forward Ryan Strome, who missed Game 4 with a right knee injury and who appeared to be compromised in Game 6. He played only 8 minutes, 46 seconds before the Rangers took him out of the game.

Gallant refused to talk about the decision to scratch Kakko. He said of Strome, “He started the game and he was fine. And then it caught up to him.’’

Stamkos’ first goal, a harmless-looking wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Shesterkin on the stick side, opened the scoring at 10:43 of the second period.

It was a stunning goal, because up to that point, Shesterkin had been magnificent in turning aside everything the Lightning had thrown at him, including a wicked first-period redirection by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and a breakaway by Anthony Cirelli. Shesterkin also made a nearly unbelievable save on Nikita Kucherov’s attempt at the back post on a two-on-one early in the period.

The Rangers were outshot 31-21, and according to the website Natural Stat Trick, Tampa Bay had 37 scoring chances to the Rangers’ 23. The high-danger chances, according to the site, were 17-6 in favor of the Lightning.

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