The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the brink of elimination. In a game seven winner take all matchup with the New York Islanders on Friday night, the Lightning either win to advance to their second straight Stanley Cup Final or get ready for an off-season thinking about what could have been.
This is new territory for this group of Lightning Players. The last time the Lightning played in a game seven was in 2018. The Lightning lost that series to the Washington Capitals after being up in the series 3-2. The Capitals coach that year was Barry Trotz.
Once again, Trotz will be on the opposite bench when these two teams take to the ice on Friday night.
Tonight’s Game Seven is the first time Tampa Bay has faced elimination since Game Four of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. The Lightning has also not won when facing elimination since the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.
During those six years, the Lightning has blown two 3-2 series leads in the third round.
Now for some positive numbers.
-The Lightning are 5-3 all-time in-game sevens and 3-1 at home. The Islanders are 4-5 in-game sevens.
-12-0 record in games after a loss in the last two postseasons scoring four goals a game and giving up 1.5 goals a game.
-Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is also 12-0 after a playoff loss in the last two postseasons with a 1.52 GAA and a .946 save percentage.
-The Lightning are 5-0 in games this postseason following a loss.
-The Lightning have not lost a home game this postseason that wasn’t the home opener of a series. They have a 5-0 record at Amalie Arena in all playoff games that wasn’t a series opener.
Head coach Jon Cooper summed it up perfectly when talking about his team. Are you full?” Are (you)content with one Cup, or do (you) want to be “special?” This is something that Cooper has talked about with his players all season—being special. Winning a second consecutive Stanley Cup would put this Lightning team in elite company.
So what must the Lightning do to ensure victory on Friday night and punch their ticket to their second straight Stanley Cup Final?
The Lightning is 11-2 when scoring the first goal in the playoffs. In Wednesday nights 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders, the Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead and, for only the second time this postseason, let that lead evaporate by playing “passive” hockey, and it cost them the game.
The Lightning is also 0-4 when allowing the opposition to score first. So, you can see how important it will be for the Lightning to set the tone early by getting that first goal.
Play defensive hockey while taking some offensive chances.
The Lightning has done a great job this postseason in the games where they have built a lead. The Lightning has an 11-2 record in those games. Wednesday’s 3-2 loss was only the second time this postseason that they relinquished the lead.
The Lightning has played great defensive hockey while taking advantage of the offensive chances that they have been given in -previous games. That was not the case on Wednesday after taking a 2-0 lead.
The Lightning was focused entirely on defense and did not take many offensive chances, costing them the game.
As a result, they ended up defending in their end of the ice for most of the third period. It was also almost like the team focused so much on defense that offense was an afterthought.
Vasilevskiy must have a good game. He is one of the best goalies in the world. Vasi has been outstanding after a loss this season, and he will need to have a great game on Friday night.
Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy finalist and has not lost a game after losing in the last playoffs the last two seasons. Look for a strong performance from the Lightning netminder on Friday night.
The Lightning could also be playing this game without their best player Nikita Kucherov.
Kucherov took a slash along the boards early in the first period of Wednesday’s game and did not return. Cooper had no comment after the game, and there was no practice on Thursday.
Kucherov has five goals and 22 assists in the playoffs and is leading the NHL in playoff scoring.
The Lightning was without Kucherov the entire regular season and was still one of the top teams in the league.
Kucherov’s absence would have a significant effect on the power play. With Kucherov in the lineup, The Lightning is converting at an almost unheard rate of 37.7 percent.
It will not be easy on Friday night. This will be the hardest game the Lightning will have played this postseason. A game seven is the hardest game in a series to win.
The Lightning is playing at home and has an excellent record after losses in the playoffs. That should give all Lightning fans a lot of confidence going into game seven.
“I can’t guarantee the result,” Jon Cooper said, “But I know we’ll show up.”