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).
Islanders vs. Lightning score, highlights from Game 7
First period: Islanders 0, Lightning 0
8:58 p.m. — Varlamov best player on the ice, stopping 15 shots. Vasilevskiy, by comparison, stopped five.
8:48 p.m. — Things were (actually) a little more lopsided earlier on but the Lightning led in shot attempts 22-10 and Corsi For percentage (68.75 to 31.25) at the buzzer, per Natural Stat Trick.
8:43 p.m. — Two minutes left in the period and the Bolts are outshooting the Islanders 12-3.
8:32 p.m. — Pat Maroon was stirring things up during warmups.
8:29 p.m. — Victor Hedman gets a partial breakaway off a … headman pass. Varlamov with the stop.
8:28 p.m. — Replay shows Kucherov skating around during the TV timeout. Trying to stay loose?
8:26 p.m. — Andy Greene with a big-time stop on a Tyler Johnson chance from the slot.
8:18 p.m. — Lightning control play for a good chunk but Anthon Beauvillier gets a burst of speed to split the D but can’t get it past Vasilevskiy. Big right pad stop.
8:17 p.m. — Varlamov makes the first stop of the night.
8:16 p.m. — Game on.
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.