Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
When: 8 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC (local) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Second City Hockey, The Committed Indian
This isn't a game 7, but that mentality has to be employed tonight by the Tampa Bay Lightning at United Center against the Blackhawks. While Chicago plays for the Chalice of Lord Stanley tonight, the Lightning play for what most people take for granted daily - they play to earn the right to another day. The 18 skaters and 2 goalies tabbed in the lineup play for another chance, one last shot at the glory of the Stanley Cup.
At most, there are three days left in the NHL season. The potential is very much there that the season ends tonight, but if the Lightning does get the victory they ensure the season ends on June 17th in Tampa, Florida. They play their 108th game of the 2014-15 season for the right to play their 109th.
The Lightning franchise has been in this position before: game 6 of the 2004 Final at Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. They went to overtime and outlasted the Flames, earning the right to another go-around, the finale to the final of the NHL season. That was 11 years ago, though, and that team has no connection to the current team (unless you consider team executives and media part of this team; hello Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman).
Somewhat more timely and relevant is the fact the Bolts have not lost three games in-a-row during the course of the 2014-15 season. Having dropped games 4 and 5 puts them in that position to try to avoid, again, turning a fluke into a streak of failure. It would be poetically disappointing if the one time three-losses-in-a-row feat happened was at the very end of competitive play. It would also be a really cool milestone if the team once again averts a losing streak.
They have to earn that, though. Earn the accomplishment of going back to even, earn the right to play for the Stanley Cup at home in Tampa. They have to earn that right tonight in Chicago and give everything they have (and more) to accomplish it in order to be granted the chance to do it (give everything they have and more) all again on Wednesday.
The morning skate was completely optional at United Center for Lightning players and Nikita Kucherov was not on the ice for it...until a few minutes later. His status is still a question mark for tonight after his collision with the goal that knocked him out of game 5 in Tampa. Goalie Ben Bishop was also participating in the optional morning affair at United Center. He'll be listed as a game time decision, most likely.
Who wasn't part of the morning skate is worth noting, knowing they'll play but they (possibly) have issues: Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman. It's no secret that Tyler Johnson has been playing with issues; he's been skipping face-offs and not goal scoring. Stamkos playing while injured would also explain why the team captain hasn't been an offensive force in the Final series. I read less into Hedman skipping the skate as he hasn't skipped an optional workout in a while, he's earned a day off if he so wishes it.
Can you expect the Lightning to come out, guns blazing tonight? They do need to be willing to fire on Corey Crawford, but also need to be responsible and not just run-and-gun and potentially give away the game by neglecting their own end. At the same time, Jon Cooper cannot go to a prevent defense if the Lightning have a lead late in the game. Employing that strategy during game 1 was part of how the Hawks ended up taking the game - they were afforded too many chances in the Lightning's zone.
Side note Reminder for Tampa Bay residents: Tonight's watch party for the game will be at Amalie Arena.
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