Tampa looks to close out the series tonight as they are favored coming into this game
Well, this is it. This is where it all ends. After a remarkable postseason run, the Islanders will run out of magic tonight. I mean, the series isn’t over until it’s over, but I think New York has too big a mountain to climb if they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Even with the suspension of Alex Killorn and the questionable status of Brayden Point, I still think Tampa downs the Isles this evening.
Game Three was clearly New York’s best showing in the Eastern Conference finals up to this point. The Isles’ offense exploded for five goals despite being limited to just three in the previous two games. The Islanders finished the first period of Game Three tied 1-1, but they went on to score two goals in the second to take a 3-1 lead into the third period. It was there that the Lightning scored two goals to tie things up with a little under eight minutes remaining in the game. In previous matchups, the Isles would have folded like a house of cards, but something was different on Friday. Instead of settling for overtime, Brock Nelson would score his eighth goal of the postseason to break the tie with about 3:30 remaining in the game. It was smooth sailing from there as the Isles would go on to score an empty-net goal, securing the 5-3 victory.
I hoped that the Game Three victory would be enough to spark a comeback in the series. Unfortunately, that was not the case for New York. In Game Four, the Lightning picked up right where they had left off in Game Two. After a scoreless first period, Brock Nelson would find the back of the net to give the Isles a 1-0 lead. From there, it was all Tampa all the way through. The Lightning would score four unanswered goals on their way to the 4-1 victory. Tampa now leads the series three games to one as the franchise looks to advance to its third Stanley Cup Finals appearance tonight.
I am not saying it is a foregone conclusion that the Lightning win today. In fact, you could even make the case that the Isles could be favored due to some key Tampa players being limited. As I mentioned before, Alex Killorn is suspended for Game Five. More importantly, though, Brayden Point is questionable to play tonight as he is listed day-to-day with an injury. Tampa will likely be able to survive Killorn’s absence. The 31-year-old Center only has seven points in 16 playoff games and has registered a +/- of -3 so far this postseason. However, if Brayden Point is unable to go, the Lightning could be in some trouble. Brayden is tied with Nikita Kucherov for the most points recorded by a Tampa player this postseason with 25 in 16 games. If he is unable to go, then I could see this game going either way. If Brayden Point is able to play though, then I sense it’s going to be curtains for the Isles.
The problem with the Islanders is their scoring has been way down this round. The Isles have averaged 1.3 goals per game in losses to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is way down from their previous series where they were scoring 3.4 goals per game against the Flyers. The Islanders’ lack of scoring is not from any lack of effort or trying. The team has just run into a brick wall in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Russian goalie has the best Goals Allowed Average of all players remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Furthermore, his .930 save percentage is the second-highest amongst all goalies that have played in at least ten games this postseason. I expect “Vassy” to take care of business once again tonight.
I have said this time and time again. The Islanders are not a bad hockey team. The problem is that the Lightning are a tremendous Hockey team. If New York had drawn the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, then I would have probably picked the Isles to advance to the Stanley Cup. Alas, fate stood in the way. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team of destiny. They are about to pull a Virginia University (losing as the best team one year and then turning around to win the Championship next year). This is not going to be a series that the Islanders lose. This is going to be a series that the Tampa Bay Lightning win. I think the Bolts book their ticket to the Stanley Cup tonight. Sorry Isles fans. The dream ends here.