Islanders fans would like to pretend that Game One of the Eastern Conference didn’t happen. Unfortunately, it did. Fortunately for them, it’s a seven game series and there’s no bonus points given for winning a game 8-2 instead of 3-2.
Prior to Game One, the question on most people’s minds was whether rest would prevail or would rust be an issue for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The answer in hindsight is obvious.
New York played an overtime game on Tuesday of last week. They then played a double overtime game on Thursday. On Saturday, they played an emotional game seven to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. On Sunday, the team had to fly from Toronto to Edmonton as the two NHL bubbles were condensed into one. On Monday, they had to play Tampa Bay in Game One.
While the Isles were doing all of this, Tampa was relaxing. They eliminated Boston on Monday of last week and got a week off to prepare while their opponent played grueling, emotional overtime games.
The craziest part of the 8-2 scoreline was that the first two periods were relatively evenly played at even strength. Even when you adjust the numbers for score effects, the shot attempts were only 13.8 to 12.6 in favor of Tampa Bay. The scoring chances were 7.6 to 4.95 in favor of New York. The high danger chances were 2.9 to 1.9, once again in favor of the Isles. Despite this, the score was 5-1 in favor of Tampa after one period.
In the third period, you saw the effects of an extremely worn-out, tired team basically give up. Despite the poor showing, there’s a sense of calm from the Islanders. Star player Mathew Barzal was quoted as saying, “We get tomorrow’s game and it’s a completely different series."
The difference in Game One was obvious: Thomas Greiss was pulled less than 11 minutes into the game after getting beaten three times on nine shots. Semyon Varlamov wasn’t much better in relief, pulling the puck out of his net five times. One thing is for certain: if the Islanders don’t get quality goaltending, this series will be a very quick one. Tampa’s talent level is far too high for mediocre goaltending.
It remains to be seen who will get the start for the Isles in Game Two, but my feeling is that the Isles will go back to Semyon Varlamov who has been good for the most part in this postseason. It’s hard to judge a goalie’s performance when he wasn’t expecting to play in the game. Combine the lack of preparation to the onslaught of the Lightning, and it’s not fair to Varlamov to judge him for his Game One performance. Trotz had to go with Greiss in Game One after his Game Seven shutout, but I expect him to hand the keys back to Varlamov in Game Two.
Thankfully for the Isles, their goaltending and defense has responded after rough games. Semyon Varlamov was pulled in Game Two of the Isles’ previous series against Philadelphia after allowing three goals in the first period. He returned to the net in Game Three and conceded only one goal while backstopping his team to victory. In game six against the Flyers, Varlamov was beaten five times. The Isles responded by shutting out Philadelphia in Game Seven.
A lot of the credit has to go to coach Barry Trotz. Despite the embarrassing loss, there is a sense of calm in the world of Islanders fans. There is an unlimited amount of trust that this fanbase has in this coach, and for good reason. Trotz is known for his defensive system and has proven throughout the course of his nearly 20 year NHL coaching career that he knows what adjustments to make. If there’s a coach who can scheme a defense to slow down this attack, it’s Trotz. He knows his team cannot trade chances with this Tampa Bay team and that limiting their chances is paramount if the Isles are to have any chance.
Prior to their eight goal outburst on Monday, Tampa Bay’s games in these playoffs have not been high scoring. Ten of the 13 games they’ve played have gone under 5.5 goals. While Tampa is known for their dynamic scorers like Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, their defense and goaltending is extremely underrated.
The Lightning feature Victor Hedman who is one of the top goalies in the league. He’s joined on defense by guys like Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Shattenkirk who can all move the puck extremely well. Backstopping this unit is Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is nominated for the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie.
Expect a desperate Isles team to come out in game two. The coaching staff will have made adjustments to slow down Tampa Bay. The Islanders receive a lot of hate for being a boring team to watch. They are going to need to play a boring game if they want to make this a series. They had a day off to catch their breath and watch video. Don’t expect a repeat of Game One.
The odds have shifted towards the Lightning for game two, which is not a surprise after what we just witnessed. That being said, I do think there is value on New York at anything higher than +145. However, it’s not my favorite bet in this game.
The total for game one of this series was 5 goals, and the offensive explosion by Tampa has raised it to 5.5 in Game Two. The consensus was that this was going to be a low-scoring series. A rested team taking advantage of a team that might not have been as ready to play shouldn’t change things much moving forward.
The larger sample size tells you that New York knows how to defend and keep other teams at bay offensively. Tampa Bay does the same. Don’t let the blitz from Tampa in Game One cloud your judgement too much. The betting public will surely bet the over after seeing a team score eight goals in Game One.
Follow the larger sample size of these teams and be contrarian against what the public will want to bet.
BET: Under 5.5 Goals @ -130