NHL Playoff Preview: New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightningby Liz Pendergraft June 13, 2021 1 comment
The opening semifinal on Sunday between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders is a best-of-7 rematch from the 2020 Eastern Conference final. Tampa Bay won that match in six games, going on to eventually win the Stanley Cup. Due to the limitations on division play set in place due to the pandemic, the teams never met this season so it will be an interesting matchup. The Lightning are looking for a repeat, and the Islanders are looking for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since the 1983-84 season. Two teams with loyal fanbases, great players, and a strong desire to win should make for a great round.
You can find the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights semifinal preview here.
For the Islanders, both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have had their moments in the playoffs. Varlamov has a .925 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average over seven games, while Sorokin has a .934 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA over five games. It’s thought that Varlamov will continue to start after having an outstanding round against the Boston Bruins, but you never know who they may go with. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been in net for all of the playoff games for the Lightning. He has a .934 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA over those 11 games. It’s a given he will start, and that gives the Lightning the advantage in net. Either way, it’s sure to be a goalie duel between whomever is between the pipes for each team.
In one corner of the ice we have the Islanders, with defensemen like Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, and Ryan Pulock. The team did a great job of stifling the Penguins’ scoring, and though not as successful against Boston’s top line, they were able to make it work. They need to be prepared to shut down players like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos, who have 11 or more points each thus far. In the opposite corner for the Lightning, there is Kucherov, Point, Ryan McDonagh, and Norris Trophy nominee Victor Hedman. McDonagh and Erik Cernak have been the Lightning’s most effective defensive pairing, and Hedman has been outstanding, with 11 points in 11 games. It’s an interesting matchup between defenses, with the Islanders being one of the league’s most physical teams. While grittiness is a good thing to strive for, Tampa Bay has the better defense.
The Lightning racked up an astonishing 15 power-play goals in the postseason. That makes them the leader of the playoffs with a 41.7 percent conversion rate. On the other hand, the Islanders have had a not-so-great penalty kill at 61.5 percent. The best thing the Islanders can do to try to even up this discrepancy is not to take any penalties. On the flip side, the Islanders’ power play is fourth in the playoffs at 28.1 percent, and the Lightning have the second-best penalty kill among the remaining teams at 77.8 percent. Tampa Bay has the advantage in this series when it comes to special teams.
Star power is on the Lightning’s side, and these playoffs are even better for Tampa with Stamkos, who missed all but one game of last season’s playoff run. All but one forward who has played a postseason game has at least one goal, and all but two have had at least one assist. For the Islanders, the playoffs have brought out the best in their offensive play. They had 2.71 goals per game in the regular season, but it improved to 3.58 goals per game in the postseason. Only one Islander forward has zero points in the 12 games they have played so far. Despite the improvement for the Islanders and depth on both sides, the advantage still goes to the Lightning.
The Islanders will need to attempt to slow the game down, but it will prove to be difficult with the Lightning being such a high-flying team. Tampa Bay will need to continue to work on getting those high-quality shot attempts. What it will come down to is the goaltending. Vasilevskiy has been solid for the Lightning, but it will be intriguing to see if Varlamov can keep his groove going after a shaky start. Barry Trotz will have to decide who starts, and that might make all the difference for this matchup.
Both Jon Cooper and Trotz have been in this situation before. They know what they are doing, and both have a Stanley Cup on their resumes to show for it. There have not really been any questionable calls so far on either side to give fans a reason to worry. The teams are evenly matched in this area, so we’ll have to see how they handle decision-making in this round.
The Islanders have a bit of unfinished business with the Lightning going into the game. It will be interesting to see which team wants it more. Many of the players on both teams were there for last season’s matchup. Despite not having played each other this season, both teams are familiar with each other.
While both teams are coming into the match with impressive play, the Lightning still have the advantage.
Series Prediction: Tampa Bay 4-3
Follow Liz Pendergraft on Twitter @lizzibear824
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