Islanders vs. Lightning Game Six Preview For 9/17/2020

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.

Islanders 3 – Lightning 2

Islanders vs. Lightning Game Five Preview For 9/15/2020

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.

Lightning 4 – Islanders 3

Islanders vs. Lightning Game Three Preview For 9/11/2020

Isles come into this one desperate for a win after a heartbreaker on Wednesday

The Game One loss the Islanders suffered was horrible. It was some of the worst hockey the team had played in years. However, I️ think you can make the case that New York’s loss in Game Two was way more devastating to the Isles’ psyche. After surrendering eight goals in the first game, the Islanders played lights out in Game Two, holding Tampa to one goal in 59 minutes of gameplay. Then, disaster struck. With ten seconds left in regulation, Ryan McDonagh rifled a pass to Nikita Kucherov who was able to get the puck past Semyon Varlamov for a goal, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead with about nine seconds left in the game. There would be no miracle for New York as Tampa would take home the 2-1 victory. I️ cannot emphasize enough how deflating that loss was. Here was a team that allowed eight goals in 60 minutes their last time out, playing an amazing defensive game. The Isles were probably getting mentally prepared to go to the locker room to get ready for Overtime. Instead, with nine seconds left in regulation, Tampa found the back of the net, lifting them to the eventual victory in Game Two. It’ll be interesting to see how the Isles respond tonight at 8:00 PM EST.

Thankfully, the Islanders have a great leader in head coach Barry Trotz. The message he had following Wednesday’s loss was one of positivity. “I think the belief in our room is real good,” coach Trotz said on Thursday via a Zoom call. “I just feel like, you know, this series is real close to flipping here.” Captain Anders Lee reassured fans that the Isles will not let the Game Two loss bother them. “We’re not going to dwell on the loss, but you can look back on it and pick from it and build off it. I think we did a lot of good things but just came up short.” Hockey is clearly a game of inches. If McDonagh’s pass is a little bit off or deflected by a skate or stick, then it’s certainly possible we are having a completely different conversation today. Regardless, the Islanders did do a lot of good things in Game Two. There is a chance they can steal Game Three if they follow the gameplay they utilized Wednesday night.

The best thing New York did in Game Two was limiting Tampa’s scoring opportunities. Despite losing the game, New York was able to hold the Lightning to just 21 shots on goal. This is an incredible effort considering Tampa Bay averages 34.5 shots per game in the postseason. If the Islanders want to make a comeback in this series, they have to keep playing stout defense the way they did the other night. Furthermore, the offense did everything you could ask but find the back of the net. New York had more shots on goal, fewer penalties, and more face-off wins than the Lightning. Unfortunately, the puck bounced Tampa’s way in Game Two, leading to the eventual win. With all that in mind, I️ still think the Isles had the right approach to the game. They limited Tampa’s opportunities and made very few mistakes, which are both classic qualities of a Barry Trotz team. If the Isles play the way they did in Game Two throughout the rest of the series, then they could come back and extend this thing to seven games. Hell, they could even win this thing. It’s important to not get too far ahead of ourselves though. This two-game hole is going to be a tough one for the Isles to climb out of.

The Islanders are a good team. They’ve been somewhat lucky in this postseason, drawing a number of “offensively-challenged” hockey teams. I️ don’t want to take anything away from the Isles. However, they haven’t faced a team like the Lightning once this postseason. The closest they came was when they drew the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Qualifier. Even still, the Panthers don’t hold a candle to the Lightning. Tampa is 4th amongst all teams in postseason scoring while the Panthers were limited to just 1.75 goals scored per game. Even the top-seeded Flyers had their offensive challenges. Philly ranked 16th in scoring amongst all teams that qualified for the postseason this year. This Lightning team is just different. They have great goaltending and elite scoring. They are as dangerous as they were last year and twice as pissed off after being swept in the first round of the playoffs. The Isles simply have to win today’s game, or they may be bounced out of the Eastern Conference Finals without recording a single victory.

My gut tells me that the Lightning are going to win Game Three, then lose Game Four, and then win Game Five, defeating the Isles three games to one. I️ am going to go with my heart though on this one. My heart tells me Barry Trotz has his guys right where he wants them. Trotz and the Isles know that they can beat the Lightning. They just need to go out and actually execute their game plan for 60 minutes, not 59 minutes and 50 seconds. With confidence restored in their goaltenders, I like the Isles to win tonight’s game. The Islanders must win this game, or we may have to start bringing up the “s” word.

Islanders 3 – Lightning 2

Islanders vs. Lightning Game Two Preview For 9/9/2020

Isles hope to bounce back after an embarrassing first game

Holy sh$t, I️ was wrong. I️ predicted the Isles would steal Game One by a final score of 3-2. What actually happened was the Tampa Bay Lightning annihilated the New York Islanders 8-2 for a victory in Game One. The eight goals scored by the Bolts tied a franchise record for the most in a single playoff game. Tampa scored first, but New York was able to respond with a goal of their own. After that though, the wheels fell off the tricycle. I would say bicycle, but the Isles looked like children going up against grown men the other night. The Lightning would score two more unanswered goals to finish the first period up 3-1. Tampa would score twice more in the second period and three more times in the third for a total of eight goals on the evening. A touchdown plus a two-point conversion. It was one of the worst beatings in the history of the Islanders.

The Lightning are stacked. They have guys like Kucherov, Stamkos, Sergachev, and Hedman, the list goes on and on. However, their best player since the postseason has been Brayden Point. In 14 playoff games, the 24-year-old Center has eight goals and 15 assists for a total of 23 points this postseason! What has been even more impressive has been how clutch he has been. He has two game-winning-goals this postseason, both coming against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Brayden Point should be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Lightning end up winning the Stanley Cup as I️ predicted they would.

I need to address the elephant in the room. I️ am a person who likes to sing my own praises. Nobody is going to tell you I️ was right more than me. However, I️ am also the first to admit when I️ am wrong about something. Man oh man, I️ have been wrong about Hockey a lot recently. In fact, I️ have not gotten a Hockey prediction correct since Game Four of the Flyers-Islanders series (insert upside down smile emoji here). That is not great guys. I️ am almost afraid to make a pick because I️ know it’s going to be wrong. I️’m not sure if I️ should go with my gut, or pull a George Costanza and go against every good instinct I️ have. Tonight’s game will certainly be a better contest, but I️ fear the end result will still be the same for the Isles.

New York’s not a bad team. With that being said, everything that could have gone wrong in Game One did. The Isles were clearly worn out from the seven-game series against the Flyers, a series the Isles had three chances to win. Meanwhile, the Lightning came in well-rested and used that speed and readiness to their advantage. It should also be known that the Isles had to travel to Edmonton from Toronto just one day after beating the Flyers in Game Seven to get ready to take on the Lightning. As Tampa Head Coach Jon Cooper said, “now, we’re on even terms,” meaning both teams will have the same amount of travel time and prep time for Game Two.

I️ don’t know who is going to start in goal for the Isles in Game Two. To be fair, I️ don’t know if it’ll matter that much, that’s how good Tampa is on offense. Thomas Greiss was named the starter for Game One. He ended up allowing three goals on nine shots. Varlamov came in to relieve Greiss and played much better despite surrendering five goals. A starter has not yet been named for tonight’s game, but I️ fear the Lightning have too much offense for either goalie to handle. Don’t get me wrong, I️’m sure the starter for Game Two won’t surrender eight goals. At the same time, I️ don’t think the Isles have enough offense to go toe-to-toe with Tampa.

The Lightning are playing like the best team in the NHL. One of my friends said the West is the better conference, but I️ don’t believe that for a second. The East has Philly, New York (both of them), Washington, Columbus, Montreal, etc, and that’s only the Metropolitan division! Don’t get me started on how stacked the Atlantic Division is. Either way, Tampa has proven they are the cream of the crop in the East. They simply have more talent than the Isles. Talent doesn’t guarantee wins, but it certainly plays a big role needless to say. The Lightning will prove how good they are again tonight. Tampa wins a closer game, but they still win comfortably.

Lightning 4 – Islanders 2

Islanders vs. Lightning Game One Preview For 9/7/2020

Tampa and the Isles face off in Game One where the Bolts come in as the favorites

Well, it wasn’t pretty but the New York Islanders have finally made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals after an almost 30-year absence. New York will be facing off against the well-rested Tampa Bay Lightning in a best-of-seven series to determine who will represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. Before we dive into this matchup, let’s take a look at how both these teams got here.

We start with Tampa Bay who has proven to be one of the best Hockey teams in the NHL over the last two years. This team gets lost in the shuffle of things because everybody likes to harp on their early exit from the playoffs last season. However, you could make the case that the Lightning would not be where they are right now without going through the growing pains of last year’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since 2019’s playoff embarrassment, the Lightning have managed to go 10-3 in the postseason, losing only one game in three rounds of the playoff action. After a 2-1 finish in the Stanley Cup Qualifier, the Lightning emerged as the two seed in the East. As a result, they had an opportunity at redemption as they would face off against the Blue Jackets in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa was able to answer the call, eliminating the Blue Jackets in five games. After that series, the Lightning would go up against the Boston Bruins, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL. Tampa proved to be unrattled by this test as they would end up dominating the Bruins on their way to a 4-1 series victory. Now, the Lightning look to keep the Stanley Cup dream alive as they get ready to go head-to-head with the New York Islanders.

New York’s journey to the Eastern Conference Finals was much more difficult and dramatic, but it made the end result that much sweeter for long-suffering Isles fans. In the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, the Islanders bombarded the Florida Panthers early on, eventually winning the series three games to one. After that, New York had to face off against the third-seeded Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz’s former team. The Isles responded to this test by eliminating the Caps from the playoffs in five games. The most recent series that New York played in was one of the most dramatic of the 2020 playoffs. The Isles were able to get up on Philly early, taking a lead in the series three games to one. That is when the Isles began to stumble. After going up 3-1, Philadelphia mounted a comeback for the ages, winning two games in overtime to force a decisive Game Seven. In the end, though, New York proved to be the better, more disciplined team. The Isles shut out the top-seeded Flyers 4-0 in Game Seven to give them the series win and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. With four more wins, the Islanders will advance to the Stanley Cup for the first time in almost 40 years.

This will be the toughest series to predict out of all the playoff matchups in my opinion. After beating the Bruins, I thought that the Lightning would be a shoo-in to not only reach the Stanley Cup but to win the whole thing. Their offense is one of the best in the league and their goaltending has been stellar since the postseason began (7th in playoff scoring, 4th in playoff scoring defense). However, I think that this is the worst possible matchup for the Lighting in the East. The Isles have arguably been the best defensive team in the postseason. Furthermore, the Barry Trotz coaching style (hit them hard, get a lucky bounce, and do not allow easy shots) has proven to be Tampa’s Achilles heel both last year and this year. I mean, this Tampa team is virtually the same top-to-bottom as last year’s squad. This is going to be a close series, and this will go six or seven games, regardless of who comes out on top. I still think that it will be Tampa representing the East when all is said and done. Sorry Islanders fans.

With that being said, I like the Isles to win Game One. Tampa is once against expected to be without the services of Center Steven Stamkos. Also, former MVP Nikita Kucherov will play in tonight’s game, but he will likely be limited due to an undisclosed injury. The Lightning have been able to survive and advance without Stamkos in the lineup, but that Kucherov injury is worrisome. I am sure he will be back to his normal self soon enough, but I am concerned with how effective Tampa’s offense can be with him playing in a limited capacity. I mean, the guy has the second-most points (16 pts: 4 G, 12 A) of all players on the Lightning in the postseason! Tampa will need him to bring his A-game if they want to score on the Isles, a team that allows the second-fewest goals per game of any franchise that qualified for the postseason this year. With Kuch playing a limited role, I think Tampa’s offense may struggle against the Isles tonight, maybe not the whole series, but definitely tonight.

I fear that the Lightning will be a little rusty after having the last seven days off. Some might use the term “well-rested,” but I believe the momentum of the Game Seven win will carry over into tonight for the Isles. Furthermore, the Isles playstyle has been proven to give the Lightning fits. The Columbus Blue Jackets laid out the gameplan for how to defeat the Lightning: score early, play good defense in front of your net, and do not stop hitting their guys. Barry Trotz is going to get the most out of his guys while also flustering the heck out of the Lightning. In fact, the only team that is better at playing “rough-n-tumble” hockey than the Blue Jackets are the Islanders. That is why I like this series to go seven games. Give me the Isles in this one. Like I said, I still expect Tampa to win the series, but the only way this goes seven games is if each team loses three times. Tampa will be the team that loses tonight’s game.

Islanders 3 – Lightning 2