After eliminating the Boston Bruins, The New York Islanders will now face the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a third round rematch from last season. This article will provide a comparison between the two teams, heading into Game 1 tomorrow.
This is the first round in which teams are playing anyone from outside their division, so obviously there’s no relevant head to head stats. In terms of the regular season standings, the Lightning finished eighth in the league, while the Islanders landed in 12th place.
Special teams were key for the Lightning this year, finishing the regular season with the ninth-best power play and fourth-best penalty kill. The Islanders, on the other hand, ranked 20th in power play success but did have the sixth-best penalty kill in the league.
In terms of comparing rosters, a lot of people will give the Lightning a pretty huge advantage here.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos both returned for the playoffs and have been excellent for the Lightning. The duo leads the team in points and Kucherov’s 18 points in 11 games has him leading the league in playoff points. Meanwhile, Brayden Point and Alex Killorn are both over point-per-game numbers as well and the likes of Blake Coleman, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat all provide some pretty outstanding depth up front for Tampa Bay.
However, I would say the forward group is the only area where the Lightning have a significant advantage. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the single best goalie in the world right now but the Islanders may just have the best tandem in the league. Semyon Varlamov has been excellent for the Islanders, posting a .925 save percentage in seven playoff games thus far. Even when he stumbled, Ilya Sorokin proved more than capable of playing in high-pressure games, managing a .934 save percentage in the five playoff games he started.
Then on defense, while Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev and others make for great blue line depth, the Lightning shouldn’t underestimate the Islanders’ ability to shut down top forwards. When New York’s group is at their best, they can frustrate the league’s most skilled players and I would expect we see the pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock causing problems for Tampa Bay’s forwards.
So while it’s clear that the Lightning are the favourites heading into the series, I think the Islanders have a chance to shock some people and pull out a win.
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