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The team with the worst record in the postseason field has clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup final. Now, it’s time for the defending champions to do their part to join them.

The Lightning will either advance to the NHL’s championship series for a second consecutive season or be eliminated from the playoffs, depending on the outcome of tonight’s game against the New York Islanders.

The Stanley Cup semifinal series is tied at three games apiece entering Game 7 at 8 p.m. at Amalie Arena. The winner will host the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup final starting on Monday.

The status of Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov, the postseason’s leading scorer with 27 points, is expected to be a game-time decision. Kucherov left Game 6 on Wednesday after being cross-checked in the back by Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield on his first shift of the game.

In Kucherov’s absence, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli moved up to the first line at times during Game 6 to play alongside center Brayden Point and left wing Ondrej Palat. Cirelli, with a goal and an assist, was the most effective of the bunch and saw the most time on the line.

Palat took Kucherov’s spot in the right circle on the power play.

Tampa Bay defenseman Erik Cernak, hit hard into the end boards by New York’s Matt Martin in Game 4, also will be a game-time decision. Luke Schenn has started the past two games in his absence.

Also missing in the third period of Game 6 was the Lightning’s forechecking game, as Tampa Bay allowed New York to play in the offensive zone for much of the period, opening the door for an Islanders comeback in a 3-2 overtime loss.

Can a Lightning team that is 12-0 over the past two postseasons in games following a playoff loss bounce back one more time with its season on the line?

Follow along, starting at 8 p.m., and we’ll find out together.

Setting the scene

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