Either the Lightning flies, or it falls in Game 7

by Gary Shelton on May 23, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov hopes to measure up to Game Seven./CARMEN MANDATO

Kucherov hopes to measure up to Game Seven./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Someone's going to go on. Someone's going to go home.

Someone's going to rush toward the center of the ice to celebrate.

Someone's going to drop their head and skate away from it.

Someone will feel like heaven. Someone will feel like hell.

There is no other choice for either team, no consolation prize, no safety net. It is all, or it is nothing at all. It is possibilities, or is the exile into the off-season. It is Game Seven. Get with it or get out of the way.

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Hedman has to help stabilize the defense./JEFFREY S. KING

Hedman has to help stabilize the defense./JEFFREY S. KING

In a sport of series, it is down to one game, do or die. For the Lightning, and for the Caps, the book has another chapter, or the story is over.

"Game 7s are like the playoffs, really, in a nutshell," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's a series of highs and lows. It's how you manage them. You just can't let the game consume you. Yes, it's Game 7. Yes, somebody's season is going to be over. There's been probably a 93-game dress rehearsal for this moment. When you're this deep into the season, this close, you just can't let the game consume you. You just have to do your job.

"When you get this deep into a series, seven games, all these players know each other by heart. Now it really comes down to a little bit of will. You have to will yourself to this moment."

For the Bolts, Nikita Kucherov has only one goal in his last seven games.

"He's a big part of our team," Cooper said. "40 goal-scorer, a hundred-point guy. We need him. Our power play has had a lot of success this year, he's a huge part of that, especially in this series.

"If that one doesn't ring off the bar with six seconds left... Sometimes it's going your way, sometimes it's not. I know that he’s a player with a special talent, I've seen him rise to the occasion time and time again. I expect nothing different tomorrow from Kuch."

Cooper expects a tight, low scoring game.

"The one thing I do know, they're tight checking, low scoring, close games," Cooper said. "It really doesn't come to how many you put in the net, it's how many you keep out. That attention to detail on the defensive side has to be there."

On the Lightning's side? There is home ice. There is Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has played well. On the Caps side? The Caps are bigger, and they were much more physical in game six.

"A lot of that (traffic in front of the net) is will," Cooper said. "Are you willing to go to those areas that are a little bit harder on the ice than other places? Sometimes we've been on that, sometimes we haven't.

"The other thing is we have not shot the puck nearly enough. When we have, we either miss or they're blocked. Time and time again we'll look at our shot attempts in the game, we out shot attempted Washington, but they've got more shots on net. They're delivering them in spots where stuff can happen, we're not. We got to be better at that."

For Cooper, the momentum of the series keeps shifting.

"Once you get to Game 7?" Cooper said. "Let's be honest, after Game 2, they had all the momentum. After Game 4, who had it? After Game 5, who had it? It just bounces back and forth. Now it's just one game. It's like you played the first six for fun, now this one means a lot."

The Bolts will have to be closer to matching the Caps' strength.

"We just can't play the way we did yesterday," Tampa Bay's Dan Girardi said. "We need to respond to the physical play, put more pucks on net, just kind of be better in every aspect of the game.

"We do have the right guys in the room to do that. We've been doing it all year. We have a lot of experience in the room. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage."

Girardi has had mixed success in his Game Sevens.

"Been on a couple losing ones, a couple winning ones," Girardi said. "You have to play a full 60 minutes. Can't take a shift off. Every little play matters, whether it's a chip out, blocked shot, get a good puck on net, make a good play. All those little things add up. Can't take a shift off. Just have to be more ready than we were yesterday."

Victor Hedman said the Bolts will need difference-makers.

"We want to be that," Hedman said." It's a team game. You need everyone. At the same time we put the pressure on ourselves to be difference makers every night. We're playing a team that probably has the same mindset. It's going to be another close game tomorrow, we know that. We need to be the difference makers. We need all 18 guys to come ready to play, do their job, play their roles, and good things can happen."

Game time is 8 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Ranking the Game Sevens

1. Lightning 2, Flames 1 (June 7, 2004): There can be no other. The Bolts won their only (so far) Stanley Cup 2-1 behind a pair of goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and a solid job in goal by Nikolai Khabibulin. Tampa Bay trailed 3-2 in the series before winning their last two.

2. Lightning 2, Flyers 1 (May 21, 2004): The Flyers seemed intent on spoiling the Bolts' party in the Eastern Conference Finals that year, but the Bolts pulled out a 2-1 victory in Game Seven. Fedotenko and Fredrick Modin scored for Tampa Bay.

3. Rays 3, Red Sox 1 (October 19, 2008): Just checking. But the Rays also won a crucial Game Seven to get to the 2008 World Series. Matt Garza had a strong start, and David Price struck out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded in the eighth.

4. Lightning 2, Rangers 0 (May 29. 2015): Ben Bishop had his second shutout of the series, stopping 22 shots. It was the first time the Rangers had ever lost a Game Seven at. home. Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored for Tampa Bay.

5. Lightning 1, Penguins 0 (April 27, 2011): The Bolts beat a strong Pittsburgh team 1-0 on a goal by Sean Bergenheim. Dwayne Rolloson pitched the shutout for the Lightning.

6. Lightning 2, Red Wings 0 (April 29, 2015): Ben Bishop stopped 43 shots, and the Bolts closed out the Red Wings in the first round. Braydon Coburn scored for the Lightning and Anton Stralman added an empty-netter.

7. Bruins 1, Lightning 0 (May 27, 2015): Boston's Tim Thomas out dueled Dwayne Rolloson in a 1-0 game to stop the overachieving Lightning's march toward the playoffs. Nathan Horton scored in the third period for Boston. The Bruins would win the Stanley Cup.

8. Penguins 2, Lightning 1 (May 26, 2016): Bryan Rust scored his second goal of the game in the third period, breaking a tie and allowing the Penguins to continue on their mach toward the Stanley Cup.

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