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. Flyers Game Seven Preview For 9/5/2020

“F@%K” -Islanders Fans, probably

Folks, if you are a fan of chaos, then the National Hockey League is for you. Yesterday, we saw two teams forced into a decisive Game Seven after leading the series three games to one. Early on, the Dallas Stars were able to steal a victory in overtime to give them the series win over the Avalanche four games to three. Later in the evening, the Vegas Golden Knights put together a three-goal third period to give the team a series-clinching 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Now, it all comes down to one final game between Philly and New York. The loser goes home while the winner moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals. After showing confidence in the Isles for the entire series, I am beginning to backtrack on my original pick.

The Islanders have had countless chances to bury the Flyers, but Philly is still kicking. New York took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Flyers on Sunday. Since then, the Isles have had a number of opportunities to eliminate Philly, but they managed to let the Flyers stick around thanks to a pair of overtime victories. Just think about that for a second. If a puck maybe deflects a different way or takes a lucky bounce, then we are not having this conversation. New York had three overtime periods to down the Flyers, and they were unable to. Now, Philly enters tonight’s game with all the momentum in the series and maybe the world. The Isles will be on their heels as they look to put a stop to Philly’s recent string of good luck.

The Flyers haven’t just been lucky. In fact, they have elevated their play to a whole other level since going down three games to one in the series. In the first four games of the series, Philly only managed to score seven total goals for an abysmal 1.75 goals per game. However, the offense has come alive with its back against the wall. Despite being down 3-1 in the series, the Flyers have been able to put on an offensive clinic in their last two games, scoring nine goals in nine periods of Hockey for an average of 4.5 goals per game. Philly’s newfound offense has given new life to this series, and that is why we will be seeing our third Game Seven in two days.

I think one of the most important catalysts during this incredible two-game run by the Flyers is Oskar Lindblom. If you are unfamiliar with the story of his 2019-20 season, then strap in because it is something truly remarkable. Back in December of 2019, the 24-year-old Winger was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a deadly form of bone cancer. However, the Swedish forward was able to complete Chemotherapy treatment back in July, making him eligible to return to the ice for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All of Lindblom’s hard work paid off when he took the ice on Thursday, helping lift Philly to an overtime victory in Game Six. The team has rallied around Lindblom, and as a result, they find themselves on the cusp of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things. I would be scared if I was an Islanders fan. With that being said, I am not going to say that either team has a distinct advantage heading into tonight’s game. Four out of the first six games of this series have been decided by just one goal. This really could go either way, but sportsbooks have the Isles as slight favorites in tonight’s matchup. Furthermore, I don’t think that this one will be decided in regulation. Three games in this series have gone to overtime so far. It is only fitting that the seventh game goes into overtime as well. I think the Isles score first, but I think the Flyers mount a little comeback. I say that this one ends 2-2 in regulation. When all is said and done, I think the Flyers pull out the OT victory. Like I said at the beginning of this article, the Flyers are riding all the momentum right now. Philly is for real. They are going to prove why they earned the top spot in the Eastern Conference. My heart wants the Isles, but my brain says Philly wins the series thanks to a victory in overtime.

Flyers 3 – Islanders 2

Islanders vs. Flyers Game Six Preview For 9/3/2020

Philly hopes to force a Game Seven despite coming into this one as the underdog

We are now beginning to enter dangerous territory for the Isles. Thankfully, they’re in a spot that they are familiar with. In fact, the Islanders have had multiple chances to eliminate their opponent in every series they have played in this postseason. They could’ve swept the Panthers, but Florida was able to force a fourth game. New York had an opportunity to sweep the Capitals in the next round, but Washington was able to force a fifth game. The other night, the Isles could have closed out Philadelphia, but the Flyers won, so we now move on to a sixth game. When all is said and done though, I still have faith in New York to get the job done.

Before we preview tonight’s matchup, we have to talk about that crazy Game Five. The Isles were able to take an early lead thanks to a power-play goal from Josh Bailey. However, the Flyers scored three unanswered goals, allowing them to enter the third period with a 3-1 lead. It was at this point that Matthew Barzal left the game due to an injury, and the Islanders looked dead in the water. Despite all the odds being stacked against them though, New York would go on to score two goals in less than five minutes to force Overtime. Unfortunately, the Isles ran out of magic in OT. Scott Laughton scored on a redirect to give Philly the 4-3 win. Now, Philadelphia will have to have another miraculous performance if they want their postseason hopes to stay alive.

If you have a conversation with Barry Trotz about Game Five, you wouldn’t realize that the Islanders lost. The Head Coach is one of the best in the league and showed that he had confidence in his guys following that tough overtime loss. “In the third period, I thought we were coming and obviously we were able to get it tied up,” Trotz said. “And we had some early chances in the overtime, some Grade-As that if we score on them, we’re not having this conversation.” The “Grade-A chances” that Trotz is referring to are the point-blank shots Devon Toews and Brock Nelson had in the first five minutes of overtime. Fortunately for Philly, Carter Hart was between the pipes and was able to stop both those attempts on his way to a 29-save performance. He’ll have to be spectacular once again if Philly hopes to force a Game Seven.

Both teams come into this game missing a superstar Center. Matthew Barzal and Sean Couturier are listed as day-to-day with injuries. Barzal has a face injury while Couturier’s injury has not been revealed. According to Islanders’ Coach Barry Trotz, Barzal is “trending in the right direction” for Game Six. On the other side, Rotowire is reporting that Couturier is continuing to be evaluated ahead of tonight’s game, raising some doubts about his availability. Barzal and Couturier have combined for 20 points in 28 postseason games. The Islanders showed that they could make a comeback without Barzal, but winning the game without him will be a tall task. The same can be said for Philly and Sean Couturier.

I am not surprised that the Flyers were able to force a sixth game. I didn’t expect the number one seed in the East to be bounced out of the playoffs in five games. This is Philadelphia baby, the home of Rocky. If they go down, they go down swinging. It also helps that Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk came alive for one goal apiece in Game Five. At the end of the day, Philly will need production from those guys again if they want to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive.

Look, I picked the Islanders to win the series. I see no reason why I should change my pick. The Isles still have one of the better scoring offenses left in the postseason, averaging 3.29 goals per game. Meanwhile, Philly is 16th in scoring amongst all teams that qualified for the postseason. New York will win tonight and close out the series. They have to. Otherwise, they could be in deep trouble. I’m taking the Isles.

Islanders 4 – Flyers 2

Islanders vs. Flyers Game Four Preview For 8/30/2020

Philadelphia is favored slightly in this one with the over/under set at five

The Islanders come into this contest leading the series two games to one over Philly. So far, the postseason matchup has mirrored the results from the three games these teams played during the regular season. The Isles were victorious in all three regular-season games and now lead the season series five games to one. It should also be worth noting that the lone win the Flyers have over the Islanders this year came in overtime after the Flyers allowed New York to tie the game up despite leading 3-0 after the first period. There’s no doubt that the Flyers have been outmatched when facing off against the Isles this season.

The Islanders look like the better team in this series, but that does not mean the Flyers are a bad hockey team. In fact, Philly has been one of the best defensive squads in the NHL since the Stanley Cup Qualifiers began. Philadelphia has an 8-4 record in 12 postseason games so far. The difference between their wins and losses has been the effectiveness of Goalie Carter Hart. In Philly’s eight postseason victories, the team has only surrendered nine goals for an average of 1.125 goals allowed per game. The problems arise when the Flyers get in shootouts or high-scoring games. In those instances, the goaltending for Philly has been atrocious. The team has allowed opponents to score 17 goals in just four postseason losses for an average of 4.25 GAA. Simply put, when the Flyers are good, it’s like shooting a hockey puck at a brick wall, but when they are bad, they are REALLY BAD.

The Islanders have been just as good as the Flyers on defense this postseason. The reason they currently lead the series though is because of their explosion of offense that began when the playoffs did. Since the Stanley Cup Qualifiers started, the Isles have scored the fourth-most goals of all teams that reached the postseason. They are third in goals scored per game amongst all teams left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is a massive improvement from the regular season, where they finished 22nd in goals scored per game.

The Isles certainly displayed their offensive prowess on Wednesday, when the team stormed back after being down 3-0 to tie the game up in the third period. The Flyers went on to win this game in overtime, but you have to be impressed with the resilience and effort from New York. In past years, a 3-0 deficit after one period would take the wind out of the team’s sails. Hell, it would deflate the egos of pretty much any team in the league. However, the Isles continued to play hard and were able to score clutch goals when needed, forcing the game into OT. Like I said, the Isles did end up losing the game, but their efforts would not be in vain. New York would go on to win the very next game to take a 2-1 series lead. They now have a chance to bury the Flyers with another win today.

The last game these teams played looked like it was going to follow the script of Game Two. Barry Trotz went back to Semyon Varlamov in Game Three after a terrible Game Two. Needless to say, the decision paid off. Varlamov let in an early goal, but that would be all he would let get past him. New York would rally and score three unanswered goals to eventually win the game 3-1. It was risky for Trotz to go back to Varlamov after he was lit up in game two, but it ended up being the right choice for the team when all was said and done. You don’t abandon the guy that got you this far after one bad period.

The Flyers come into this game as slight favorites despite being down in the series. Thankfully, both teams will be at full strength since ESPN does not have any players for either franchise listed on the injury report at this time. In this case, with both teams healthy, I like the Isles to take Game Four. I still believe that this series will go six or seven games. However, I like the combo of Varlamov and Trotz more than I like the combo of Hart and Vigneault. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hart and Vigneault are on the right track to get Philly to the promised land. The problem is that Carter Hart is too young and Vigneault does not have nearly as much playoff coaching experience as Barry Trotz. Furthermore, the Flyers are towards the bottom half of the league in postseason scoring while the Isles have actually improved on their offense since the playoffs began. I think we get a solid victory from New York without hitting the over.

Islanders 3 – Flyers 1