New York lives to fight another day, but how long can they last?
The Islanders played their best game of the series the other night when they beat the Lightning 2-1 in double overtime to stave off elimination. It was the perfect execution of Barry Trotz’s defensive gameplan. The star of the game was Semyon Varlamov who recorded 36 saves on 37 shot attempts for a save percentage of .973. The hero of the game was Jordan Eberle. In the second overtime, Anders Lee was able to steal the puck away from Kevin Shattenkirk after he whiffed on a pass. Then, Lee had a breakaway. He saw two defenders coming his way so he dished the puck to Eberle who was rocketing towards the goal. After that, nothing but net (puts on pair of sunglasses). The score gave the Isles the win and helped them remain alive in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. I don’t think this series is over just yet folks.
I have to say, the Islanders have gotten progressively better as this series has gone on. Let’s be honest, New York had the worst possible Game One they could have hoped for after losing 8-2 back on September 7th. The team showed clear improvement in Game Two by holding Tampa to just two goals, but the end result was still the same. Then, the Isles showed some life in Game Three, beating the Lightning 5-3. Sure, they took a step back in Game Four, but they didn’t feel sorry for themselves and give up. Instead, they went out and played their best game of the series last night. Now, the Islanders have a little momentum (I mean, did you see that team celebration after Eberle’s goal?). With that in mind, I’m not ready to count out the Isles just yet.
I don’t want to take anything away from New York’s victory. HOWEVER, Brayden Point did not play in Game Five. If you have read any of my previous articles (which, if you have, thank you), you know I think Brayden Point is the best candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Lightning end up winning the Cup. The third-year Center has recorded nine goals and 16 assists in 16 postseason games for a total of 25 points. It’s clear that the Lightning were a different team without him on the ice. According to ESPN, Head Coach Jon Cooper said it’s too early to determine if Point will be available for Game Six. Point is clearly hurt, so it’ll be interesting to see how effective he can be if he does end up playing Thursday night. If Point is not able to go, then I definitely like the Isles’ chances.
Both teams come into Game Six fairly evenly matched up to this point in the series. The Isles and the Lightning have both recorded 13 wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this postseason. New York is first in goals scored this postseason while the Bolts rank fifth. In fact, the Isles average 3.10 goals per game while the Lightning average 3.17. Furthermore, they’re both defensively stout. Tampa and New York are third and fourth respectively in goals allowed per game this postseason. Both of these franchises are deserving of a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, regardless of what the first game of the series looked like.
Semyon Varlamov may be in Tampa’s head right now. He’s been brilliant this postseason, allowing just 2.17 goals per game in 18 starts. Even when he has lost, he has been effective, giving up fewer than four goals a game. I think with Point uncertain and Varlamov hot, I have to go with New York in this one. I still believe Tampa will advance, but I also think the Isles will force a Game Seven.