It comes down to this: one game. Game 7, Lightning vs. Islanders. The winner goes on to play for the Stanley Cup against the Canadiens and the loser hits the golf course.
“You get to a Game 7, you know what’s at stake,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “You play all year to get to this point. You get one opportunity.”
Anyone looking at this semifinal series Wednesday morning would have been shocked that it got to this point. The Lightning blew the Islanders out of Amalie Arena 8-0 in Game 5. Two nights later, the Lightning went up 2-0 before the Islanders, in front of a boisterous home crowd, began to claw back into the game. Jordan Eberle and Scott Mayfield tallied goals to tie it before Anthony Beauvillier notched the game-winner 68 seconds into OT for a 3-2 win. The faithful responded by giving the players a beer shower.
Now the scene shifts to Tampa for the decisive game. The biggest question mark is whether Nikita Kucherov will suit up. “Not sure,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the morning skate. Kucherov left Game 6 after taking a cross-check from Mayfield on his first shift (he threw a hit on Mat Barzal later in the shift).
“We played 56 games without [Kucherov],” said Cooper. “Usually, we have 12 forwards when we play without him, so that probably made it tougher on us when we had 11. But we’ve gone down this path for four months. It’s nothing new for us.”
Tampa Bay has not lost two playoff games in a row since 2019, which is also the last time it faced elimination. Refresher: the 2020 champs were swept by the Blue Jackets in the 2019 postseason lid-lifter. The Islanders are aiming for the franchise’s first trip to the final round since losing to the Oilers in 1984.
Sporting News has all the action as the Lightning and Islanders battle for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final (all times Eastern).
Lightning vs. Islanders score, highlights from Game 7
7:58 p.m. — Looks like Erik Cernak is in too. He missed the last two with an injury.
7:56 p.m. — Looks like Kucherov is in. Jan Rutta is out.
Stanley Cup 2021: Latest news