Unfazed by potential frustration, Lightning remain calm ahead of next test

The Islanders tied the game in the third and Anthony Beauvillier scored in OT as New York forced a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 3-2 win.

For all we know, they were breaking chairs and airing frustrations at a safe distance from the Zoom camera.

And if not?

Well, these Tampa Bay Lightning possess more cool and composure than the vast majority of us would show under similar duress. They had every reason to walk out of Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night screaming mad -- at referee Chris Lee, who watched playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov injured with a hard cross-check and decided not to call a penalty; and also at themselves for squandering a 2-0 lead with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

The only faint whiff of frustration came from captain Steven Stamkos, referencing the Scott Mayfield cross-check that ended Kucherov’s night after one shift and 46 seconds: “It’s probably a guy looking for a little cheapshot there.”

But even amid a playoffs where the standard of officiating has slipped to uncomfortably low levels, Stamkos found empathy for Lee and partner Gord Dwyer.

“Yeah I think they said that they didn’t think it was malicious or anything. So it is what it is,” said Stamkos. “I mean they don’t have the chance to look at it on replay like we do. We’re not going to complain about the officiating -- nothing we can do about it now.

“We’ll focus on next game.”

The next game is the kind that will help define how history remembers this Lightning group: A Game 7 with a chance to win a seventh straight playoff series. And more importantly the opportunity to continue chasing a back-to-back Stanley Cup victory against either Montreal or Vegas.

You have to believe it will be played without Kucherov, the most dangerous offensive weapon in these playoffs with an astounding 27 points already.

There was no update on his condition, but it’s hard to imagine a player missing 58-plus minutes of a game with this magnitude and somehow being OK to rejoin the lineup 48 hours later.

Were they so inclined, the Lightning could even have found a bitter taste from the fact it was Mayfield who tied the score with 8:44 left in regulation after ending Kucherov’s night. He got the superstar forward with a cross-check that appeared to impact his right ribcage and lower back.

But, again, there was no apparent frustration with that cruel twist or Stamkos’s assertion that the referees chose not to penalize Mayfield because they didn’t think his infraction was malicious enough to warrant a minor.

“I don’t know if that was said,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, a former lawyer. “It would be weird, though, because to say it wasn’t malicious then I guess you’re determining … because I don’t think that’s in the rule book. That a cross-check has to be malicious, I don’t think that word’s in that, but I can’t confirm that was said.

“I just know it happened really close to one of the officials but he didn’t see it.

“Move on.”

They actually did that initially in Game 6, building a 2-0 lead on goals from Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli. Point’s backhander at the end of a determined shift stretched his streak to an incredible nine straight games with a goal -- one back of Reggie Leach’s all-time record.

But the Islanders didn’t go quietly, clawing their way back with Jordan Eberle’s knifing backhander and Mayfield’s bar-down beauty and finally Anthony Beauvillier’s thrilling winner off a Blake Coleman turnover at 1:04 of overtime.

“I think just maybe they had it seemed like more speed in the third [period] than we did,” said Point. “A little quicker to pucks. They capitalized on their chances.”

“It was an entertaining game and we’ve got to go get the job done at home,” said Stamkos.

This will be their first Game 7 since 2018 against Washington, when they missed out on a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. They suffered a similar defeat against Pittsburgh in 2016, too.

But they’ve also since gotten over the hump -- winning a championship inside the Edmonton bubble in September and showing an unmatched pedigree in the process. Maybe that’s why they seemed so calm in the wake of a stinging defeat to the Islanders which left them with bumps, bruises and something worse.

“I think with two quality teams like this you kind of expect something like this, you expect a series like this,” said Cooper. “And you sit here right now, minutes after you lose a game in overtime, it stings. But in the end a lot of good things come from tonight.

“Hey, we’re one win away from going to the Stanley Cup Final so if you were going to tell me that I would be like, ‘Damn, I’ll take that.’

“So, here we are.”

Keeping calm and carrying on, despite all the reasons they might not.

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