#parent | #kids | First Round comes down to a winner-take-all Game 7

After having their backs against the wall in Game 6, the Bolts found a way to get the job done with Brayden Point scoring in overtime to force tonight’s winner-take-all contest.

Tampa Bay is 6-3 all-time in Game 7’s, including a 2-2 mark on the road. During head coach Jon Cooper’s tenure with the Lightning, the team has gone 3-2 in Game 7’s.

Exactly 50% of all-time Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been decided by a one-goal margin. The team that scores the first goal of the game is 138-46 (.75%) in all-time Game 7’s.

The Bolts own an all-time record of 11-1 when scoring first in games when facing elimination. A win tonight would mark nine straight series victories for Tampa Bay, a feat that only seven teams in NHL history have accomplished.

Tampa Bay brings a wealth of experience to tonight’s contest, including defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has been part of seven Game 7 wins in his career, one shy of tying the NHL’s all-time record. McDonagh has skated in nine career Game 7’s, as has Lightning forward Corey Perry.

Video: Preview | Round 1 Game 7

The Bolts feature three players who have scored a Game 7 game-winning goal in Perry, Alex Killorn, and Pat Maroon.

Killorn has quietly moved up the Lightning’s all-time postseason leaderboards in a few different categories. On Thursday, he skated in his 117th career playoff game to move to fourth place among the Bolts’ all-time playoff games played leaders.

More importantly for tonight, Killorn has shown to be a clutch performer at big moments in the postseason. He is currently tied with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brad Richards for the most points (1-2-3 pts.) in Game 7’s in Lightning franchise history.

“Obviously every playoff game you want to be at your best, but I think there’s something special about Game 7’s,” Killorn explained. “You want to be able to even play at a higher level than we have been playing.

“I think that’s kind of what separates championship teams is the ability to rise up in these situations.”

The biggest factor for Tampa Bay entering tonight’s contest may be the man between the pipes, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The ‘Big Cat’ has posted a shutout in five straight series-clinching wins entering tonight’s game, an NHL record for consecutive shutouts in such situations and tied with Chris Osgood and Clint Benedict for the most overall in NHL history.

“I feel like Vasilevsky gives us his best every night,” Cooper said on Saturday morning. “No goalie is immune to giving up goals.

“All I know about Vasy is when the lights are shining the brightest, he seems to stand and play his best. I’ve seen it time and time again and I expect no different tonight.”

Killorn, who has been around for all of Vasilevskiy’s clutch performances, has complete faith heading into Game 7.

“Champions and great players are able to elevate their games in the highest pressure situations,” Killorn said. “I think he’s shown that in these high-pressure situations, that’s when he plays his best hockey. We want to make it as easy as possible for him.”

While tonight’s contest is coming off of a Game 6 win, it’s worth noting Vasilevskiy’s playoff numbers coming off a loss, which certainly qualifies as a high-pressure situation like Killorn was describing.

Vasilevskiy has won a ridiculous 18 straight games following a playoff loss, dating back to the opening game of the 2020 Playoffs coming off a loss in Game 4 of a 2019 First Round series. The Russian netminder owns a combined .942 save percentage in those 18 wins. If there’s one goalie you want in the crease for your team in a big moment, it’s hard not to pick Vasilevskiy.

In speaking to the media on Saturday, you can sense what this game means to Cooper. It’s an opportunity for the Lightning to extend their historic run and continue forward in pursuit of a third-straight Stanley Cup.

“The fear of losing might be bigger than the want to win. That’s for me personally,” said Cooper. “I think playing with a little bit of fear of losing, that’s a great motivator.

“I don’t want anybody to sit here and say, ‘Well, is it easier because we’ve won two Cups? If the Leafs get the best of us tonight, it’s okay.’ That’s BS.

“We’re standing here on the cusp of greatness. Why the hell wouldn’t we charge through that door?

“Let’s go get this. Let’s go attack this. If fear is the motivator, then so be it.

“I don’t want there being any excuse if it doesn’t go well for us tonight like, ‘Oh, it’s okay. We’ve won two.’ That would be unacceptable.”

As previously mentioned, Perry and McDonagh have been in this situation more than anyone on Tampa Bay’s roster, having played in nine career Game 7’s. They both understand the magnitude of the moment.

“In your head you’re saying, ‘Yeah, it’s just another hockey game,’ but it is a Game 7,” Perry explained. “It’s in the playoffs.

Video: Corey Perry | Pregame Round 1 Game 7

“As a kid, you’re on the street saying, ‘Stanley Cup Playoffs, Game 7,’ whatever it is. It goes through your head when you’re a kid. These are the fun ones. These are when names are made.

“You show up for Game 7, you’re going to be remembered.”

While tonight’s contest may have much more attached to it than just another game, the Lightning will still have to make sure they stay composed and stick to what got them here. It will be important to limit mistakes, defend, and play to their strengths.

“We have success when we’re doing it as a group of five on the ice,” said McDonagh. “You need everybody to be in their spots on breakouts and on the forecheck. You need everybody to be playing at the same pace as one another, getting up and down the ice and, like I said, just execute with your system and your plan.

“That gives us the best chance of winning, we feel.

“You know each team is going to be pushing hard to find a way. It comes down to little details in the game and then, ultimately, individual guys’ wills, efforts, courage, and all those things that you want to lay on the line to help your team win.”

The video has been watched.

The systems have been discussed.

The prep work has been completed.

“It’s a player’s game,” Cooper said. “At times, your best coaching is getting the hell out of the way.

“We’ve prepped them. The Leafs are prepped.

“Now it’s up to the players to go out and execute.”

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