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

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 Five Preview For 9/1/2020

There is no clear favorite for today’s matchup between Philly and New York

The Philadelphia Flyers enter today’s game on the brink of elimination after emerging from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. This team is reminiscent of the Flyers’ squad from the 2010-11 season. That group finished second in the East when the regular-season was over. However, they eventually fell to the Boston Bruins in four games in the Conference Semi-Finals. It is quite possible that Philly may see the same results following the conclusion of tonight’s game.

Meanwhile, the New York Islanders are on the verge of making team history. With a win today, the Isles will advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since the 1992-93 season. If the Islanders win, they will end the league’s longest conference finals drought. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets have a longer drought, and that franchise didn’t begin playing until 2000. I am sure Islanders fans are nervous because they have been scorned before, but I have confidence in Barry Trotz and his guys.

Sure, the Isles are a good team, but I want to discuss the lack of production on the Flyers’ side. I will sing the praises of one individual suiting up for Philly: Kevin Hayes. The 28-year-old Center has 10 points in 13 postseason games. He has definitely shown up in the postseason. Beyond Hayes though, Philly’s top line guys have been incredibly ineffective. Travis Konecny, who led Philadelphia in goals during the regular season, has registered zero goals in the postseason. He’s not alone either. Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk have accounted for zero goals in 22 combined postseason games. Sean Couturier has been decent in the playoffs, recording two goals in 13 games, but that simply isn’t good enough in the postseason when the rest of your team is struggling. I think the Flyers have a bright future, especially with the Carter Hart-Alain Vigneault combination, but Philly’s lack of offense has been exposed by the Islanders. I expect it to be the cause of the Flyers’ downfall in tonight’s game.

We also need to talk about the goaltending performances by the Islanders. Finding a reliable goalie to start in the postseason is hard enough, but the Isles have somehow managed to find two net-minders that have stepped their game up in the playoffs. Let’s take a minute to applaud Thomas Greiss, who made his first start in nearly six months the other day. Greiss would go on to stop 34 of 36 shots on goal in Game Four, leading the Isles to the eventual 3-2 victory. It’s a classic “pick your poison” situation. Whether the Isles start Varlamov or Greiss, you know you are going to have a tough time getting the puck to find the back of the net.

Normally, I am a person that thinks teams perform best with their backs against the wall. However, that has not been the case for the Flyers at all in this series. After winning Game Two, Philly dug itself in a hole by dropping the next two games. Now, the Flyers face elimination, and I don’t know if they have the will or firepower to avoid an early exit.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I am picking the Islanders to win Game Five. Even if Philly manages to win the game though, I still think New York moves on to the next round. Philadelphia has been outmatched the whole series. The goal differential clearly indicates that. In four games, the Islanders have managed to outscore the Flyers 14-6. For years, Islanders fans would say, “if we could just get some offense, this team could be dangerous.” Well, take a good look Islanders fans. Your team found and offense and is now just 60 minutes away from advancing to the team’s first conference finals appearance in almost 30 years. I think New York closes out the series in classic Islanders-fashion.

Islanders 3 – 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

Islanders vs. Flyers Game 3 Preview (August 29, 7PM ET)

The Isles Are Slightly Favored in Today’s Game With the Total Set at 5.5

That was quite a response from the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2. Philly was able to mount an early 3-0 lead in the first period. However, the Isles managed to come storming back and ended up tying the game with a little over two minutes left in regulation. It seemed like the Islanders were going to complete the comeback, but it was not meant to be. New York came up a little short in overtime as the Flyers would win the game thanks to a goal from Philippe Myers. The series is now tied 1-1, and tonight’s matchup will play a big role in determining who will end up moving on in the playoffs.

The Isles now have an important question glaring them in the face following yesterday’s tough loss: who should start in goalie? Before yesterday’s game, this question was a no-brainer. Semyon Varlamov has played like one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this postseason. In fact, Varlamov has the best Goals Allowed Average of any player that has participated in more than three games so far this postseason. Furthermore, his save percentage is second out of all players remaining in the postseason behind only Carter Hart. Varlamov looked to be the guy for the Isles, but Barry Trotz had to make a drastic decision yesterday and switch to Thomas Greiss after Varlamov surrendered three goals in the first period.

Now, the Isles have to decide if they want Greiss to go out there or Varlamov. Greiss was excellent filling in for Varlamov yesterday, registering 20 saves on 21 shot attempts. At this time, Coach Trotz has not made any indication as to who will get the start between the pipes. The coach spoke highly of Thomas Greiss, saying “I thought he was solid. He made a couple of key saves. He looked very comfortable, which is a great sign. That’s a positive for his attitude and his work ethic for our goaltending department. You have to be ready in the playoffs, and he was definitely ready…” Trotz is not going to reveal what his plan is, but I would not be surprised to see Varlamov back in goal for game three. Varlamov has been the guy that got you there with an 8-2 record in 11 games. You cannot abandon your franchise goalie for having one bad period against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference playoffs. I imagine Varlamov will get the nod from Trotz, but he will have a short leash to work with. If he lets in a few goals early, I expect Greiss to come in.


It’s easy to focus on the Islanders following yesterday’s game because the team was able to make things interesting late. However, I feel that we are not highlighting/complimenting the amazing job being done by Philly coach Alain Vigneault. In just his first season with the team, the Flyers have already reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs and won a postseason series. This is even more impressive once you realize that the Flyers’ leading scorer only recorded 24 goals this season. Philly is playing tough, grind-it-out hockey, just like the Islanders. As a result, they have the third-best scoring defense of all teams that reached the postseason and find themselves three wins away from a birth in the Eastern Conference finals.

For the Flyers, the real issue is that they play a similar style to the Islanders. Both teams like to play physical and rely on strong defense as well as good goaltending. In fact, these two teams are ranked first and second in goaltending out of all teams remaining in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Isles are just a little bit better than the Flyers at executing their gameplan. New York scores more and allows fewer goals than Philly. I think the Flyers will take this series to seven games, but I think the experience and the execution by the Isles will eventually lead New York to the series victory.

Now we look ahead to tonight’s matchup. The Flyers are looking to keep the momentum up as they try to win their second straight game. However, the Isles have been a thorn in Philly’s side the whole series, never allowing the Flyers to truly get comfortable or execute their gameplan. Furthermore, I think Varlamov is going to go out there tonight with a chip on his shoulder as he has something to prove following yesterday’s game when he was pulled from the ice. I think the Isles win a close game without hitting the over or the under.

OddsUSA Prediction: Islanders 3 – Flyers 2

Islanders vs. Flyers Game Two Preview For 8/26/2020

Philly comes into this game as slight favorites with the over/under set at five

The second game of the playoff series between the Islanders and Flyers will be played today in Toronto, Canada. The Flyers were shellacked in the first game of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. On one side, you have the number one seed in the East looking to bounce back in game two. Meanwhile, on the other side, you have the Islanders who are looking to build on an extremely important game one win. It’s going to be very intriguing to see which team comes out more motivated.

The Isles played a perfect game the other day in the first matchup of the series with Philly. New York took an early 1-0 lead in the first period, which allowed the team to dictate the pace of play for the remaining 50 minutes of gameplay. As a result, the Islanders were able to hold the Flyers to zero goals on 29 shot attempts. We should not be surprised by NY’s defensive prowess. The Isles have proven that they have one of the best defensive teams in the 2019-20 postseason. What came as more of a surprise was the Isles’ explosion of scoring. New York was able to make Philadelphia’s young, hotshot goalie, Carter Hart, look silly, scoring three goals on 28 shot attempts against the 22-year-old net-minder. The Isles were able to top off their effort with an empty-net goal, giving them the eventual 4-0 win and an early 1-0 lead in the series. Now, New York finds itself just three wins away from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

Goaltending will be the difference between the winner and loser in this series. I do not want to take anything away from Philadelphia’s Carter Hart. The kid has been sensational since joining the league. Hart finished the regular season with the eighth-best goals allowed average in the NHL (2.42 GAA). That number has been even better since the postseason began. Hart has only allowed 1.86 goals per game in nine total contests. Carter Hart is an excellent goalie with a tonne of upside, and Philadelphia has found its franchise goaltender for the next ten years. My concern is that Hart’s inexperience will be exposed by a well-coached team like it was in game one. Trotz’s men were able to get three pucks past Hart, which may have shaken the young man’s confidence. I think Carter Hart’s time to shine will eventually come, but not now. Not when is a 22-years-old playing on a team that needed a little luck to eventually be crowned the top team in the East.

The Islanders do not have the same problem as the Flyers. You could make the case that New York’s goaltending has only gotten better as the postseason has gone on. In fact, Goalie Semyon Varlamov was able to accomplish something the other day that had never been done in franchise history. Varlamov posted a shutout in Game One, meaning that he became the first player in Isles’ history to record back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs. This is quite an amazing feat when you realize that this was never accomplished by Hall of Fame Goalie Billy Smith, who won four Stanley Cups for the Isles in the 80s. I mean Varlamov is playing like the best goalie in the NHL right now. He has allowed the fewest goals per game in the postseason and is tied with Joonas Korpisalo for best save percentage by a starting goalie in the 2019-20 postseason. Semyon Varlamov has been the catalyst for the Isles’ impressive playoff run.

I think that the Isles should be favored in this series. They have playoff experience, and it shows. The Isles have already improved on their postseason run from last year, posting an 8-2 record through ten games in 2019-20. Also, Barry Trotz is an excellent leader. He proved it when his team upset the Capitals in the previous round, and he is proving it again against the Flyers. The statistics clearly favor the Islanders at this moment. New York is averaging the third-most goals per game of all teams left in the playoffs (3.40 GF/G). As for the Flyers, they average the fewest goals scored per game of all remaining playoff teams. Since the goaltending for both teams is so close (1.50 GA/G for NYI, 2.00 GA/G for PHI), I am picking the Islanders to eventually go on to win the series because they have the advantage on offense at this moment in time.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. As pro athletes love to say, “take things one game at a time.” With puck drop set for 3:00 PM EST, I like the Islanders to win game two. The Flyers are a young team with a new Head Coach and a young goalie in just his second season. I think they impressed everybody in the qualifying round and exceeded expectations, but I think the Islanders are going to continue to expose the Flyers since both teams play such similar, defensive styles. Simply put, Philly hasn’t shown they have the scoring capabilities to keep up with the Islanders. I don’t think the Flyers get blanked in this game, but I do think they lose without hitting the over. Give me the Isles in game two.

Islanders 3 – Flyers 1

Islanders vs. Capitals Game One Preview For 8/12/2020

Isles open the series against the Caps as underdogs with the O/U set at 5.5 for Game One

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here for New York State. After the Sabres missed out on the Qualifying Round, the Empire State only had two teams representing them in the NHL Bubble. One of those teams was sent home while the New York Islanders were able to advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will face a team in the Capitals that they are all too familiar with.

Before we preview the matchup between the Isles and the Caps, let’s take a look back at how the Islanders got here. At the time of the NHL pause, New York had played in 68 games for a record of 35-23-10, giving them 80 points on the season. This record was good enough to earn New York the seventh seed in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and a chance to play the Florida Panthers for a spot in the playoffs. The Isles were able to make the most of this opportunity as they would go on to win the series three games to one. The Islanders played stout defense, which is unsurprising for Barry Trotz’s team. A pleasant surprise though was the Isles’ scoring offense. New York was able to score 13 goals in four matchups against the Panthers for an average of 3.25 goals per game, which was much higher than their regular-season average. Now, the Islanders have an incredibly tough task ahead of them as they get set to face off against the number two seed in the Eastern Conference in the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals and Islanders are familiar foes. This series marks the eighth time the Caps and Isles have faced off in the postseason. New York currently leads the all-time postseason series, but the Washington Capitals did beat the Islanders the last time they faced off in the playoffs (a seven-game series in 2015 the Caps won 4-3). While five years has brought a lot of change to both these franchises, I worry the end result of this series may be the same when all is said and done.

There are several differences between now and 2015, but there are two main factors I am focusing on when looking at this matchup. The first “x-factor” is the Capitals are no longer postseason duds. For years, it was a known fact that the Washington Capitals could never get the monkey off their back and make a run at the Stanley Cup. From 2007-2017, the Capitals reached the Stanley Cup zero times despite finishing first or second in their division NINE TIMES! That all changed in 2018. The Capitals would go on a run, defeating the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Lightning, and Golden Knights for the teams first Stanley Cup championship. For the longest time, Washington would shoot themselves in the foot and get in their own way when it came time for the playoffs. Now though, they look calm, collected, and ready for the postseason. They are no longer the team you expect to make mistakes. Now, they are the team you worry about because they have proven they know how to get things done in the playoffs. Their previous experiences and all-around talent make them one of the deadliest teams in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The other “x-factor” that I think will have a major impact on this series is Barry Trotz. So yeah, remember how we just discussed how the Washington Capitals were a joke in the playoffs, and they could never get the job done when it mattered? Well, Barry Trotz was the guy that coached them to that Stanley Cup victory. So how did the Capitals reward Trotz for his efforts? How would the franchise honor the man who was able to turn perennial playoff duds into champions? Well, Trotz ended up resigning over a contract dispute with the team. It’s as if the Capitals said, “thanks for helping us reach greatness, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” 14 days after leading the Caps to a Stanley Cup victory, Trotz was named the new coach of the New York Islanders. I am certain Barry Trotz is still thinking about how he was mistreated by the franchise and had to leave because they wouldn’t honor his contract requests. This is going to be an opportunity to say “I told you so” for Trotz, which is why I like the Isles’ chances in this series.

So let’s look at the actual matchup taking place today at 3:00 PM EST. This is a classic matchup of defense vs. offense and grit/strength vs. style/speed. Trotz and his Isles like to hit you and play strong defense. This is perfectly exemplified by the fact that the Islanders had the fifth-best goals-against average of all 24 teams participating in the postseason. Although the numbers haven’t been great for the Caps in the postseason, they still finished the regular season with second-most goals scored per game. I like the way the Islanders play, but I have confidence in the Capitals to be able to go out there and hit the Isles back when they get punched in the mouth. Washington wins the first game of a seven-game series without hitting the over.

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Islanders vs. Panthers Game Four Preview For 8/7/2020

New York is hoping to close out the series today with the over/under set at five

I am the first person to admit when I am wrong. I thought the Panthers were too mentally weak to respond with their backs up against the wall on the brink of elimination. As it turns out, I was incorrect. Florida was up for the challenge of facing elimination as they earned their first win of the series against the Isles earlier this week.

The Panthers were able to win Wednesday’s matchup even though the Islanders dictated the pace of the game. If I had told you that both teams would be held to just 22 shots on goal apiece, you probably would have guessed that the Isles ended up winning a close defensive battle. Instead, the Panthers bided their time and took advantage of a number of key opportunities on their way to 3-2 victory.

Anybody that has read my recent Hockey previews knows that I cite desperation as a factor when picking teams. If you recall, I said that I didn’t think the Panthers felt desperate enough to respond with their backs up against the wall. Well, Joel Quenneville must have heard what I said because Florida was able to strike first in their last game. The Cats’ first goal came after 24 minutes of the gameplay. Erik Haula would score a power-play goal thanks to an assist from Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman. The Isles would go on to tie the game up later in the period. However, the Panthers responded with two more goals in the third period for the eventual 3-2 win. It’ll be interesting to see which team comes out more fired up today.

I bet you Barry Trotz let his guys have it after game three. Small things and mental errors ended up being the Isles’ downfall on Wednesday. A penalty in the second opened up the scoring for the Panthers, and they never looked back from there. Florida was able to outplay the Isles in almost every aspect of the game. The Panthers had more hits, more face-off wins, more power-play opportunities, fewer penalties, and more blocked shots. It’s certainly possible that the Islanders might have gotten a little complacent on the verge of a sweep. However, I think they come out tonight and get the job done against a team they have been better than for most of the series. They have the coaching experience to close out the Panthers.

Hockey is an unusual sport. Often times statistics don’t tell the whole story. A perfect example of this is last year’s Stanley Cup playoff series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Everybody expected the Lightning to win, even me. It seemed destined to be since Tampa had a more talented roster top to bottom and looked like a statistically superior team to the Blue Jackets in every way. It ended up being meaningless though because Columbus just wanted the series more than Tampa Bay, and their play on the ice demonstrated that. As a result, the President’s Cup Trophy winners ended up being swept in the first round of the playoffs. I think the Islanders are in a similar situation to Columbus. They may not be the more talented team in the series, but grit, good coaching, and a drive to win will eventually lead them up to success.

The Islanders have to finish the series today. If Florida is somehow able to force a fifth game, then I think the Isles are in deep trouble. Nothing good comes from a team allowing another franchise to come back in a series down two games to none. New York knows that if they let Florida come out and dictate the game, then they will lose. The Isles know they have to go out and unch the Panthers in the mouth right away. Don’t let them get anything easy. I think Trotz’s guys are ready to put the final nail in the coffin and end the Panthers’ season. A low-scoring affair allows the Islanders to win and advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Islanders 3 – Panthers 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Game Three Preview For 8/5/2020

Isles come into this one as slight favorites with the over/under set at five

This has been a nightmare for the Florida Panthers. After reaching the postseason for the first time since 2016, Florida has responded by going down 0-2 to the Islanders and face elimination when they play New York tomorrow. So after spending millions of dollars last summer to bring in an elite net-minder and hiring Joel Quenneville to lead your team to the promised land, one has to wonder: how did things get so out of control for the Panthers?

The Panthers are not a bad team. In fact, they are one of the more competitive teams in the league. However, they have moved away from playing their brand of hockey. Instead, they are trying to out-physical the Isles and use good defense to dictate the pace of the game. That does not fit the mold of what the Panthers want to be. This is a team that should be focused on speed and producing offense, but the Isles have managed to fluster them so far.

With a 35-26-8 record, the Panthers finished the season as the 19th best team in the NHL. They did this by scoring a whole mess of goals this season. Florida finished the regular season with the sixth most goals scored in the league. You would think that they would have won more Hockey games with such a good offense, especially when you look at the other teams that scored as many or more goals than them (Lightning, Capitals, Avalanche, etc.). The Panthers are the NHL’s equivalent of the Houston Rockets, who lead the NBA in points per game. The reason they are so good and put up such gaudy numbers is because both teams are high-volume shooters/scorers. When the Panthers can’t get off more than 32 shots per game like they did during the regular season, they tend to struggle. That has clearly been the case so far in the series.

It also doesn’t help the Panthers that Sergei Bobrovsky is having a down year. Bobrovsky was Florida’s prized free-agent acquisition last summer. The Cats gave Bob a seven-year contract worth $70 million. In return, Florida thought they would be getting a former all-star and two time Vezina Trophy award winner playing in his prime. What the Panthers actually got was a 31-year-old goalie with only one playoff series win under his belt who was playing on a new team with a much worse defense. As a result, Bobrovsky had one the worst seasons of his career as a starter going 23-19 and allowing 3.23 goals per game, the highest mark of his career.

Now that the Panthers are in the playoffs, their weaknesses are being exposed by a team that has much better coaching. Isles’ Head Coach Barry Trotz knew that New York didn’t have the offensive firepower to get into a shootout with the Panthers every game. Trotz decided to play the game ugly and defensively because that would be the only way the Isles would win. Using that gameplan, the Islanders have taken a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and hope to complete the sweep when they face the Panthers tomorrow.

Earlier today I picked the Rangers to beat the Hurricanes while also selecting the Panthers to win their game against the Islanders yesterday. The reason I cited for these picks was desperation. Teams with their backs against the wall, facing elimination, usually give their best effort and live to fight another day. I know it seems common, but a sweep is incredibly hard to pull off. However, I don’t think the Panthers are desperate. They certainly didn’t look desperate or hungry or angry after allowing four goals in the final two periods of today’s game. I don’t think the desperation argument works for teams that are fairly new to the spotlight of the postseason, so I guess that argument doesn’t have legs here.

When all is said and done, the Islanders will come out victorious to complete the sweep of the Panthers tomorrow. The Islanders have a great team culture while Florida does not. A quote that stuck out to me regarding the Panthers on NBCSN was, “it’s still okay to lose in Florida.” That is completely true. Florida is not a Hockey town/state. In fact, I don’t even think Floridians know where the Panthers primarily play. Floridians are football first, then basketball, then baseball, and lastly hockey. There’s no motivation for the Panthers to go out and be great because I don’t think anybody cares about them. Look at the way Toronto fans love the Maple Leafs or how Nashville fans love the Predators. The Panthers get no love from Florida, and they’re getting no love from me either. They lose and the Islanders advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs while not hitting the over.

Islanders 3 – Panthers 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Game Two Preview For 8/4/2020

The Isles enter this one as slight favorites with the over/under set at 5.5

Game One couldn’t have gone any better for the Islanders. It’s easy to say that after a win, but you could just see the Isles were dictating the pace of game one. The Islanders were able to score in the first and sit back and play defensive hockey for almost the entire game. New York will need to continue to play that hard-nosed, Barry Trotz-style of Hockey if they want to win game two.

Looking ahead to the second game of this matchup, I decided I would ask for some outside help. I had a chance to speak with Jeff Capellini, an avid Islanders fan and a writer for CBSNewYork.com. He was able to answer some questions for me about game two. Here is the transcript of that conversation:

MG: Was Game 1 a fluke (like did the Isles just have a few more lucky bounces go their way), or do you think the Islanders showed their full potential on Saturday?

JC: “I think what you saw in Game 1 was textbook Islanders under Barry Trotz, given the personnel they have. It has long been known that they need another scorer upfront, a big-time scorer. But they have made and continue to make the best of what they have. The Isles play a grind-it-out style that is more about timely goals than constant red lights. They live and die on their defensive structure. It must be sound and their goaltending must be better than just good. I think they checked all the boxes of their blueprint in Game One.”

MG: As a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, I️ know that Sergei Bobrovsky has had his struggles in the playoffs. With that in mind, which goalie do you think will have a better game on Tuesday?

JC: “Bobrovsky was stellar, in my opinion. If you are a Florida fan you have to be encouraged by what you saw from him, given how much he struggled for much of the regular season after getting that massive contract. For whatever reason, maybe the pressure of the big contract he got or his new surroundings forced a huge adjustment period for him. But what we all saw in Game One was indicative of who this guy has been for a long time… Varlamov looked really good in the exhibition game against the Rangers prior to the start of the qualifying round. He’s a quality goaltender. Perhaps some of his weaknesses were masked by the Islanders’ defensive prowess during the regular season, but he’s a guy that can steal you games when he’s on, as he was in Game 1. It’s just a matter of consistency with him. I also think by not making him the true No. 1, Trotz did Varlamov a favor. Thomas Greiss is totally capable of being a No. 1 and could play in this series given that Games two and three are back-to-back. When you have two guys who are of equal ability, albeit with different strengths, and you play both and show confidence in both, there’s a smaller margin for error for either. And let’s not forget, the Isles’ goalie of the future, Ilya Sorokin, is finally signed. Varlamov has to be good or he could find himself being a pretty well-paid backup as early as next season. Greiss will be a free agent after this season, but who knows what Lamoriello will do? He could re-sign Greiss short term and try to trade Varlamov, but he’ll only have that option if Varly is good during the playoffs.”

MG: I guess the last question I have is who do you like in game two?

JC: “I would expect Florida to come out completely jacked in Game 2. You can’t fall behind 0-2 in a best-of-5 series. Granted, the lack of home-ice advantage for teams in this unique playoff format might neutralize the age-old belief that “home ice matters,” but you also have to consider the opponent. The Isles are at their best when they play from ahead, whether it be on the scoreboard or in series games. I think it’s imperative the Panthers go up by a goal or two at some point, because if the Isles go up by a goal or two, I just don’t see them losing this game. They adjust on the fly as well as any team in the league, and they have no problem giving off the appearance of being dominated when really they are shelling up largely by design. The Panthers could have the puck forever, but if they are limited to shots from the perimeter, the Isles will have no qualms about simply lofting the puck out of the zone and resetting, or icing the puck and relying on guys like Pageau and Cizikas to win defensive zone draws and repeat the dump-out/reset process. Also, the Isles may be offensively challenged overall, but they are very good in transition. If Florida gets desperate and starts giving up odd-man rushes, the Isles have enough skill to make them pay. All the more reason why Bobrovsky must be as good, if not better, in Game 2.”

Jeff brings up a lot of good points. You can see why I went to him for some advice. I think the Panthers will have a good bounce-back game and tie up the series tomorrow. I am still a little bit worried about how the Isles’ offense will be able to score on a strong goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky. He wasn’t perfect last game, but he was still pretty damn good. Panthers win it without hitting the over.

Panthers 3 – Islanders 1

Islanders vs. Panthers Preview For 8/1/2020

The Isles open their series against Florida as 1.5 goal favorites with a 6.5 over/under

The New York Islanders will be the second team from the Tristate area to be represented in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Isles, who finished the regular season sixth in the Metropolitan Division, will go up against the new-look Florida Panthers who placed fourth in the Atlantic Division. One of these teams comes into this series looking hot while the other team still struggles to find an identity.

The Panthers enter this series as the lower-ranked team. Despite playing more games, Florida finished the season with just 78 points. That’s not bad, but it is fewer points than the Islanders had this year, so the Panthers come into this one as the underdog. To be fair, the Isles should be favored in this series. Florida has only reached the postseason once since 2012. Meanwhile, the Islanders come into this one refreshed and ready. It also doesn’t hurt that the Isles were able to complete a playoff sweep of the Penguins last year.

One man is going to be the difference-maker in this series, Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers’ new goalie will be the reason Florida either wins or loses the series. If Bob plays well, then the Panthers will win this series in four or five games. However, if Bobrovsky does not play well, then the Islanders will win this series for sure, probably in a sweep. In order to figure out who to pick in this one, you have to dive deeper into Bobrovsky’s career and look at the numbers and the trends.

Ever since becoming a regular starter in 2012, Sergei Bobrovsky has proven he is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Over the last eight years, Bob was named an all-star twice and was also named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy twice, which is awarded to the best goalie in the NHL. In fact, Bob led the NHL in goals allowed and save percentage in 2016 and also recorded the most shutouts in the league last season. With a 2.54 GAA, Sergei Bobrovsky has shown that he is one of the best goalies in the NHL… during the regular season.

Unfortunately, Sergei Bobrovsky is not the same goaltender during the playoffs as he is during the regular season. As a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, I have seen up close what Sergei Bobrovsky is capable of at his best. From everything I have gathered, I can tell you that Sergei Bobrovsky is nothing more than Hockey’s version of Clayton Kershaw. Just like Kershaw, Bob is good during the regular-season and puts up good numbers against weak teams, but he has never been able to get the job done in the postseason, and it lingers over him like a stain on his permanent record. With an 11-18 postseason record and a Goals Allowed Average of more than three, Florida fans should be a little nervous headed into this series.

So the most important question surrounding the Panthers is which Sergei Bobrovsky are you going to get? Are you going to get the Bobrovsky who helped the Blue Jackets sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games last year? Or are you going to get the Bobrovsky that always lets up a few too many easy goals when it counts? Let’s look at the Panthers’ most recent exhibition game to see where Bob is at. It looks like Florida… (adjusts glasses) lost five to nothing and surrendered three goals in the first period. So Bob is bad right now. This spells disaster for the Panthers.

I am without question picking the Islanders to win this game and the whole series. Sergei Bobrovsky is in the middle of one of his worst seasons as a starter. On top of that, the Islanders have an experienced postseason goalie in Thomas Greiss. Florida is not ready for the spotlight of the playoffs. Islanders win the game and cover the spread, but I’m picking the under.

Islanders 4 – Panthers 1