Lightning to lean on playoff experience after blowing chance in Game 6

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Tampa Bay Lightning are out of mulligans. 

They had a two-goal lead and a return to the Stanley Cup Final in their grasp in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Wednesday but let it slip away, losing 3-2 in overtime to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

“We had put ourselves in an opportunity to knock them out tonight and we didn’t,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Fortunately, we have another opportunity. We just have to take advantage of that.”

Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier‘s goal off a turnover by Lightning forward Blake Coleman ended it 1:08 into overtime. Defenseman Scott Mayfield tied it 2-2 at 11:16 of the third period after forward Jordan Eberle made it 2-1 at 14:22 of the second.

“We didn’t get the job done tonight,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “But we get to go back in front of our fans and get the job done there. We’ve got to go get the job done at home.”

For the Lightning, it’s either win Game 7 at home Friday and keep their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions alive or lose and end a magical run.

Adding to the storyline is Game 7 is the first time the Lightning face elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in more than 26 months since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 16, 2019.

They’re hoping the knowledge they’ve gained in that time will help them in the one game they haven’t played in since their run of six straight best-of-7 series wins began last postseason.

“We just have to go back to past experiences,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ve been in this situation before, having an opportunity to clinch. Look at the Stanley Cup Final, chance to win the Cup and we lost in overtime. We’ve been down this road before so it’s nothing different for us. We just have to turn around and get the job done at home.”

Video: Beauvillier, Islanders rally to win Game 6 in OT, 3-2

The Lightning actually lost Game 5 of the 2020 Cup Final against the Dallas Stars last year in double overtime. It was 3-2, the same score as Wednesday. They also blew a one-goal lead in the third period against the Stars, just like they did against the Islanders.

Tampa Bay won 2-0 in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup.

The same thing also happened a round earlier against the Islanders, when the Lightning had a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Final but lost Game 5 in double overtime 2-1. They won Game 6 in overtime 2-1.

Tampa Bay has not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs since losing four straight against Columbus in 2019, going 13-0 in games following a loss.

“All these games we’ve played, we’ve clearly played the most games we have in a calendar year of any team in the League, but it’s prepared us for times like this, or it should have,” Cooper said.

The Lightning have played 98 games, the most of any team since the League returned to play following the COVID-19 pause last season, including 42 in the playoffs, 17 this season.

But none was a Game 7. None was a win-or-go-home game.

Tampa Bay hasn’t won when facing elimination since defeating the New York Rangers 2-0 in Game 7 of the 2015 conference final. 

The Lightning lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the 2016 conference final and 4-0 to the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the 2018 conference final. They had a 3-2 lead in each series.

But Hedman and forwards Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov all played each of Tampa Bay’s past three Game 7s. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the starting goalie against the Penguins and Capitals; he backed up Ben Bishop against the Rangers.

Hedman and Stamkos each has played six Game 7s. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has played eight, including for the Rangers against the Lightning in 2015. Johnson, Killorn, Kucherov and Palat each has played four.

Kucherov left with an undisclosed injury at 2:22 of the first period Wednesday, and his status for Game 7 is unknown. He leads the NHL with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 17 games in the playoffs.

“I think with two quality teams like this you kind of expect something like this, you expect a series like this,” Cooper said. “You sit here right now minutes after you lose a game in overtime, it stings, but in the end a lot of good things come from tonight. Hey, we’re one win away from going to the Stanley Cup Final. If you were going to tell me that I would be like, ‘[Darn], I’ll take that.’ So here we are.”

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