(3A) Lightning at (2A) Maple Leafs
7 pm ET: TNT, CBC, TVAS, SN, BSSUN
Best-of-7 series tied 3-3
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs will each try to advance to the Eastern Conference Second Round with a win in Game 7 of the first round at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
The Lightning have won the Stanley Cup each of the past two seasons.
“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, “Cooper said. “We’re standing here on the cusp of greatness and why the [heck] wouldn’t we charge through that door? Let’s go get this. Let’s attack this. “
The Lightning faced elimination once the past two seasons, defeating the New York Islanders 1-0 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals last season.
“It’s exciting,” Lightning forward said Corey Perry, who has played in 10 Game 7s. “That’s all you can really say to the guys who haven’t been here. Enjoy it. This is where names are made. This is where heroes are made. It might not be the big guy. It might be somebody that you’ve never heard of doing something that takes us to the next level. That’s kind of my message to everybody. “
[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Lightning series coverage]
The Maple Leafs will try to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004.
“We just feel like this team has got lots of fight in it, lots of confidence and belief in what we are doing,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It doesn’t make the game as a challenge any easier but we certainly aren’t uncomfortable as we go into this game. We are ready for it.”
Toronto is 0-5 in their past five series-deciding games and is 0-8 in its past eight games with a chance to eliminate an opponent.
“We’ve learned from them and we’re not thinking about those (past games) tonight,” Maple Leafs forward William Nylander said. “We’re just focused on tonight.
“I think we came out a little flat in those games, maybe a little bit scared too. We don’t need to be scared to lose. We have a great team and the best team will win tonight.”
The winner will face the Florida Panthers in the second round.
Here are 3 keys for Game 7:
1. Big game Vasilevskiy
Through six games, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 3.37 goals-against average and .885 save percentage, well below his Stanley Cup Playoff career marks (2.32 GAA, .921 save percentage).
However, in his past five series-clinching games, Vasilevskiy has had a shutout in each, making a combined 120 saves.
“No worry on our end on him,” Cooper said. “That guy is a proven winner, and you’re probably right. He’s probably let in more (goals) than he would have liked or we would have liked, but a lot of that is on the guys in front of him and on us But he’s sure nice to have back there. You never know when he’s just going to say, ‘OK, I’ve had enough,’ and that’s it. Nothing’s getting by him.
2. Handling the moment
The Maple Leafs and Lightning are each focusing on not allowing themselves to be consumed by the gravity of the moment.
“I think there are always going to be nerves, so it’s just about embracing it and being excited for the opportunity,” Toronto forward Mitchell Marner said.
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh has played in nine Game 7s and is 7-2.
“We have success when we are doing it as a group of five on the ice,” he said. “We need everybody to be in their spots on the breakouts, on the forecheck. You need everybody playing at the same pace as one another getting up and down the ice. Just execute with your system and your plan that gives us the best chance to win I feel. “
Video: Get ready for Game 7 of Lightning vs. Maple Leafs
3. Scoring first
The team that has scored the first goal in the series has won five of the six games, all but Game 5 when the Maple Leafs trailed 2-0 but won 4-3.
The team that scores first in a Game 7 has an all-time record of 138-46 (75 percent), including a 3-0 record in the 2021 playoffs.
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Brayden Point
Brandon Hagel – Ross Colton – Nicholas Paul
Patrick Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Corey Perry
Victor Hedman – Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh – Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev – Cal Foote
Scratched: Riley Nash, Jan Rutta
Maple Leafs projected lineup
Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitchell Marner
Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – Alexander Kerfoot
William Nylander – David Kampf – Pierre Engvall
Jason Spezza – Colin Blackwell – Ondrej Kase
Morgan Rielly – Ilya Lyubushkin
Mark Giordano – Justin Holl
Jake Muzzin – TJ Brodie
Scratched: Wayne Simmonds, Nicholas Abruzzese, Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford
Injured: Petr Mrazek (green)
Each team is expected to dress the same lineup it used in a 4-3 Lightning overtime win in Game 6 on Thursday.