The Tampa Bay Lightning will enjoy home-ice advantage in Game 7 of their semifinal series against the New York Islanders on Friday. But the Lightning may have to play without one of their key players in the decisive contest.
The winner will take on the Montreal Canadiens, who clinched their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1993 by beating the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime on Thursday.
Kucherov status uncertain for Game 7
Now, the only question is which team the Canadiens will face in the Finals. The Lightning are the defending champions, and have been notoriously difficult to beat twice in a row: they’re 13-0 following a postseason loss since the start of last season’s playoffs.
But all streaks come to an end someday. And the Lightning may find themselves playing shorthanded in Game 7.
Winger Nikita Kucherov left Game 6 after just one shift. Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield crosschecked Kucherov early in the first period, but referees didn’t call a penalty on the play. That didn’t sit well with Tampa Bay.
“The referee doesn’t see it. Probably a guy looking for a cheap shot there,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “I think they said they didn’t think it was malicious. They don’t have a chance to look at it on reply like we do.”
Kucherov sat out the entirety of the regular season after having hip surgery in December. But the Lightning counted on him being healthy for the playoffs, and he delivered by scoring 27 points to lead all postseason scorers.
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper says his team’s experience without Kucherov could come in handy if he can’t suit up on Friday.
“We played 56 games without [Kucherov],” Cooper told reporters. “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.”
Odds favor home team in winner-take-all contest
Tampa Bay enters Game 7 as a -174 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. But the Islanders (+146) are well aware that anything can happen in a one-game scenario. New York head coach Barry Trotz says both teams will be ready to go.
|Islanders vs. Lightning Game 7 Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)|
|New York Islanders: +146||Tampa Bay Lightning: -174|
|Islanders (+1.5): -200||Lightning (-1.5): +164|
|Over 5.5: +132||Under 5.5: -162|
“You get to a Game 7, you know what’s at stake. You play all year to get to this point,” Trotz said. “I think you’re going to have two focused teams, Game 7 with a chance to go to the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t get much better than that for either organization, all the players and all the coaches.”
Cooper says he doesn’t want his team focused on its history of bouncing back from playoff losses, as much as he appreciates the resilience that record shows. But he expressed confidence that the Lightning will be ready to play in the decisive game.
“I can’t guarantee the result,” Cooper said. “But I know we’ll show up.”