New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning Preview
The Lightning are well rested, and coming off of a relatively easy time in round one against the Detroit Red Wings–dispatching them in 5 games. The Islanders, on the other hand, played a tremendously tough series against the Florida Panthers, with three of the six games needing overtime, and the last two being decided in double OT. The Islanders only had two days off, whereas Tampa hasn’t played since last Thursday.
Islanders to Watch
Thomas Greiss– In the three regular season meetings between these two teams, 23 combined goals were scored. If the Islanders want any chance in this series, they are going to need more strong outings from their backup. Everyone knows what Ben Bishop can do at the other end of the ice, but it remains to be seen if Greiss was just a hot goalie in the last series or if he can really be an elite goalie and carry the Islanders. There is no doubting how hot Greiss was last round: 1.79 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and 88 saves over the final two games. But, we have seen journeyman goalies in recent playoffs fade after a hot series
John Tavares– Speaking of hot players, Tavares would be the clear favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy if it was awarded after the first round. Tavares had a very slow start to the regular season, but finished with nine points in New York’s last four games, and carried that momentum into the playoffs. Florida couldn’t find an answer for him, and he dominated with five goals and four points–including the series-clincher in double overtime. The Islanders don’t have much depth behind Tavares, illustrated by Frans Nielsen being the only other Islander with more than one goal in the series. Besides Tavares, Nielsen and Kyle Okposo–both Tavares’ linemates, need to step up.
Lightning to Watch
Victor Hedman– Tampa’s best defenseman will be matched up against New York’s top line, and specifically Tavares, nearly every time he is on the ice. Hedman led Lightning D-men by averaging over 27 minutes of ice time in round one. The rest of the back end isn’t too shabby either, holding Detroit to just eight goals in five games. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Ben Bishop, who was even better than Greiss last round. Bishop never allowed more than two goals in a game and had a .950 save percentage. The Lightning would also get a huge boost if Hedman’s partner, Anton Stralman, can return at some point in this series. Tampa coach Jon Cooper said that it’s a possibility Stralman can return from his broken fibula against New York, which would reunite one of the NHL’s top pairings.
Jonathan Drouin– Everyone knows about the drama that followed Drouin around all season. First, it was not reporting to the AHL, then the suspension, and finally all the trade rumors. But, with Steven Stamkos out for the foreseeable future, the Lightning decided to recall Drouin for the offensive boost. And so far, it is paying off. Drouin’s quickness and playmaking abilities were on full view in the first round as he contributed four assists. The Lightning are deep at forward, even without Stamkos, as evidenced by the great play from Nikita Kucherov (5-3-8) and Tyler Johnson (2-5-7) in the first round. If Drouin can keep up his play, then the Lightning have another weapon at their disposal.
The Lightning are the deeper, more experienced team in this series by far. Although Greiss had a tremendous first round, he simply doesn’t have the playoff experience that Bishop and Tampa Bay have after their trip to the Stanley Cup final last season. Tavares can keep this series close and maybe hope for some more overtime magic, but you can’t win a series with just one forward playing at a top-tier level. It should be noted that I picked both of these teams to lose in the first round, so take my prediction with a grain of salt.
Tampa in 5