3 Keys: Islanders at Lightning, Game 7 of Semifinals

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will play Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on Friday.

The winner will have home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens, who advanced by defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime at Bell Centre on Thursday.

Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup last season. New York hasn’t been to the Cup Final since 1984.

“It’s about the moment and the opportunity tonight to take another step,” Islanders defenseman Andy Greene said. “That’s what we’re most focused on and that’s what we’re excited about. It’s going to be a great game, a great challenge. Two great teams and we’re really looking forward to it. You have to really make sure you enjoy these moments because you never know.”

The Lightning may be without forward Nikita Kucherov, the leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists).

Kucherov was injured early in the first period of a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday and did not return. He didn’t participate in the Lightning’s optional morning skate Friday.

“Not sure,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I wish I could give you guys lineup answers. I can’t so we’ll have to wait until tonight.”

The Lightning are 13-0 in games following a loss in the playoffs since losing four straight against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round.

“Our team has been really good about turning the page,” Cooper said. “I’ve loved our mindset from the morning we got up yesterday and I like it even more this morning.”

The Islanders won their only Game 7 under coach Barry Trotz, 4-0 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Second Round last year.

The Lightning have lost their past two Game 7s; at the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final and at home against the Washington Capitals in the 2018 conference final.

Trotz was coaching the Capitals in 2018.

“This is what it’s all about, what kids dream about playing in, Game 7 with the shot at the Final on the line,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. “We feel good.”

The team that scores first in a Game 7 is 137-46 (.749) winning the game, including 2-0 in the playoffs this year.

Here are 3 keys for Game 7:

 
1. Kucherov’s status

The Lightning played the entire regular season without Kucherov, who was recovering from offseason hip surgery.

If he can’t play, they have to adjust back to what they did in the regular season. Kucherov played one shift in Game 6 before leaving with 17:38 remaining in the first period.

“We have plenty of guys that are capable,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “We’ve done it all season long. … I think we’re more able and willing than ever and I think we showed in spurts last game we were able to do that.”

 
2. Barzal with the puck

Islanders center Mathew Barzal was fast and elusive with the puck on his stick in Game 6 and as a result, had arguably his best game of the series. Barzal had two assists and on each, he had the puck and drew multiple Lightning skaters to him.

New York needs more of that from Barzal in Game 7 because he brings a dynamic ability with the puck that no other skater on the team has.

“He attracts attention,” Islanders defenseman Andy Greene said. “When he’s playing real well, he attacks. He’ll attack the seams, he’ll attack the net and those plays open for other guys. I think that’s his best asset, attack mode.”

 
3. Neutral zone pressure

The team that has generated more speed through the neutral zone has been able to get better looks and create momentum. 

“It is a huge, huge aspect in this series for sure,” Killorn said.
New York was better in that area in the second period of Game 4, when they were also strong on their forecheck and it led to a 3-0 lead.

The Lightning came back and were better through the middle of the ice in the third period of Game 4, all three periods of Game 5 and the first half of Game 6. They scored 12 unanswered goals.

The Islanders responded in the second half of Game 6 and scored three unanswered goals.

 
Islanders projected lineup

Leo Komarov — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle

Anthony BeauvillierBrock NelsonJosh Bailey

Kyle PalmieriJean-Gabriel PageauTravis Zajac

Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Adam PelechRyan Pulock

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield

Andy Greene — Noah Dobson

Semyon Varlamov

Ilya Sorokin

Scratched: Cole Bardreau, Kieffer Bellows, Austin Czarnik, Anatoli Golyshev, Simon Holmstrom, Ross Johnston, Otto Koivula, Dmytro Timashov, Oliver Wahlstrom, Sebastian Aho, Samuel Bolduc, Braydon Coburn, Thomas Hickey, Grant Hutton, Bode Wilde, Ken Appleby, Cory Schneider

Injured: Michael Dal Colle (undiscosed)

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej PalatBrayden Point — Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn — Anthony CirelliSteven Stamkos

Barclay GoodrowYanni Gourde — Blake Coleman

Ross ColtonTyler JohnsonPat Maroon

Victor HedmanJan Rutta

Ryan McDonaghDavid Savard

Mikhail SergachevLuke Schenn

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Alex Barre-Boulet, Mathieu Joseph, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, Gemel Smith, Mitchell Stephens, Daniel Walcott, Fredrik Claesson, Cal Foote, Ben Thomas, Christopher Gibson, Spencer Martin

Injured: Erik Cernak (upper body)

Status report

Cernak participated in the morning skate but Cooper didn’t have an update on the defenseman’s status. He has missed the past two games. … The Islanders are expected to use the same lineup they have used for the first six games of the series.

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