New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Game 1: NHL Eastern Conference Finals Picks
For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are in the Eastern Conference finals. This is the first time in over 27 years that the Isles are one of the four last teams standing. Prior to this year, the Islanders had won two playoff series since 1993.
On the other side, the fanbase of the Tampa Bay Lightning have had to endure a long, grueling one year hiatus since their squad lost to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference final. Tampa Bay has made it to the Conference finals or further in four of their last five seasons.
These two franchises are on different journeys. The Lightning are finally looking to win the elusive Stanley Cup despite being one of the top teams in the league over the past half decade. On the other side, New York is finally gaining respect after almost three decades of being a doormat.
Will the favorited Lightning pull it off or will the Cinderella-story Islanders continue their magic run?
These two teams are dealing with dramatically different turnarounds. The Islanders just played on Saturday night, needing seven games to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers. They played a dominant game seven, giving the Flyers almost nothing all night en route to a 4-0 win.
On the other side, Tampa Bay hasn’t played a game since Monday, August 31st. The Lightning made quick work of the President Trophy winning Boston Bruins, which is obviously a very feat. There might be a downside to this for the Lightning though.
While New York has been playing hard-fought games every other night for the past week, Tampa has been practicing against each other and watching Netflix in the bubble. It’s the age old question of which will win out: rest or rust.
Both of these teams have obviously been extremely impressive in the bubble, hence being the last two teams standing in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay has played to a 57.5% expected goal rate while the Isles are right behind them at 55.4%. The Islanders have had 60% of the high danger chances in their contests, while Tampa Bay is right there as well, coming in at 57.8%.
Most prognosticators would take a look at this series and write the story of Tampa Bay’s explosive offense against the Islanders’ stingy defense. It might come as a surprise to you that of the teams remaining in the hunt for the Cup, the Islanders are first in goals scored per game, averaging 3.38 goals per contest. Tampa scores an average of a flat 3 goals per game.
On the defensive side, the Isles are allowing an extremely impressive 1.94 goals per game. That is the best of the remaining teams as well. Tampa is second, conceding 2.31 times per game.
Tampa Bay will be without the services of Steven Stamkos in this series, coach Jon Cooper reported on Sunday. Stamkos has not played in these playoffs, so his loss doesn’t change what we’ve seen but the former first overall draft pick adds a huge secondary scoring threat for his team. This is important in this series.
The New York Islanders top pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech has shown a capability of shutting down an offensive line over the past two playoffs. In 2019, the duo kept Sidney Crosby to just one assist in the Isles sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The duo has done a good job amongst the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek in this year’s run for the Isles.
Tampa’s top line, featuring Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, is one of the most dangerous lines in hockey. If the Pelech and Pulock pair can neutralize them and keep their production at a manageable level, the loss of Stamkos will be felt. While the likes of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Yanni Gourde are nice secondary players, their impact is not near the level of a Stamkos.
The goaltending situation in this series likely favors the Tampa Bay Lightning. Andrei Vasilevsky is a perennial contender to win the Vezina trophy. The Islanders duo of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov is mostly solid, but both are prone to mistakes. Case in point: Varlamov helped carry the Isles through the start of the tournament before struggling in the series against the Flyers. In fact, Varlamov struggled to the point that the Isles went to Thomas Greiss in Game 7.
After pitching a shutout in the deciding game, it would be crazy to see the Isles not go back to Greiss in Game 1. But hey, Vegas did that in the Western Conference series, so we can’t say it’s impossible.
Tampa Bay is a deserved favorite in this series, but with the form of the Islanders, I don’t agree with laying -150 in game one. There is no predicting whether Tampa will benefit from the week of rest they just had, or if they’ll come out rusty.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but we have to keep going to the money well. The New York Islanders have scored at least three goals in eight straight games. They’ve done this 11 times in their last 13 games.
The Islanders have had 15 different players record a goal in these playoffs already. That’s basically their whole team. This is a team that gets contributions from up and down the lineup. In three games against the Lightning during the regular season, the Islanders scored five against them two separate times.
Maybe the Isles come out sharper than Tampa and sneak a few on them early. Maybe the Isles do what they’ve done to teams throughout these playoffs: wear them out and force mistakes later in the game. Maybe they play a defensive gem and lead 2-1 all game before scoring an empty netter.
I think there’s an avenue where the Isles get to three goals again. At plus-money, keep following the streak.
The Pick: NY Islanders TEAM TOTAL over 2.5 goals (+124)