5 storylines to watch for Lightning-Islanders Game 7
As they say, anything can happen in a Game 7, but here are five key subplots as this highly entertaining series reaches its apex.
Nikita Kucherov's status
The Lightning were dealt a major blow early in Game 6 as Kucherov was forced to leave with an injury after only 46 seconds of ice time. The dynamic Tampa Bay winger has been the club's offensive catalyst throughout the postseason, leading all players with a whopping 27 points across 17 games. Given the circumstances, Kucherov could try to play through whatever is ailing him, but his health is the ultimate X-factor for this contest.
On the bright side for Tampa fans, the Lightning won 36 games without Kucherov this season. If he's unable to suit up, what's one more?
Will we see the Coliseum again?
Islanders faithful nearly blew the roof off Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum after Anthony Beauvillier's electric overtime winner in Game 6. If fans hurling beer cans onto the ice in celebration is the final memory of one of the league's most beloved barns, it's a hell of a way to go out, but it would pale in comparison to the raucousness of a Stanley Cup Final on Long Island.
New York hasn't been to the final since 1984, when its four-year run of glory was snapped by Wayne Gretzky and Co. The Islanders' crowd would be sure to bring the noise - even more than usual - if the home team gets to play for a title in its last season before heading to the brand-new UBS Arena.
Bolts' repeat bid in jeopardy
The Lightning have authored a dominant postseason story since their run to the Cup began in the bubble last summer. This Game 7 marks the first time Tampa Bay has faced elimination since Game 4 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs - and that could be an ominous sign, as the defending champs haven't won while facing elimination since the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. Over that span, the Lightning have blown two 3-2 series leads in the third round, most recently in 2018 against the Washington Capitals, an outfit coached by ... Islanders bench boss Barry Trotz.
On a more positive note, however, Tampa Bay is 13-0 following a loss since the start of last year's playoffs.
Barzal's redemption song
Mathew Barzal's situation seemed grim at best after the Islanders' disastrous 8-0 loss in Game 5. New York's best player potentially faced suspension after cross-checking Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta in the face. Barzal was tossed from the game and slapped with a $5,000 fine, which turned out to be a huge break for the Islanders. He was a force in Game 6, registering two assists while controlling 73.91% of shot attempts, 75% of scoring chances, and 69.81% of expected goals at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.
It was a massive statement from Barzal, who drew the public ire of his coach after getting ejected in Game 5. The forward had been quiet in the series until Wednesday night, only recording two points. Will his momentum carry over?
Point's remarkable goal streak
Brayden Point is smoldering hot right now, with a goal in nine consecutive contests. If he buries one in Game 7, he'll match Reggie Leach's all-time playoff record, and there's plenty of reason to believe he can do it. Since the start of the 2020 postseason, Point's recorded 28 goals in 40 games, and his career 0.58 playoff goals per game ranks sixth in NHL history among all players who appeared in at least 60 contests, according to Sportsnet Stats.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more clutch playoff performer than Point in the NHL.