Islanders vs. Lightning - Game 2 NHL Picks
Both NHL semi-final series are officially underway as the race for the Stanley Cup heats up. The New York Islanders took over home-ice advantage with their game one win in Tampa on Sunday. Will they be able to repeat that performance in game two on Tuesday?
New York Leads 1-0
Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders fans could not have possibly expected more from their team in the opener of this series. The Isles played a nearly perfect game en route to winning the contest by a score of 2-1. These teams played in the conference finals last season in the bubble, and Tampa Bay took game one by a score of 8-2. Is it an omen of good things to come for the Isles?
The Isles had a 2.76 to 1.78 advantage in terms of expected goals at 5-on-5 when adjusted for score effects. New York generated more high danger chances than the Lightning throughout the game. The Isles did not allow the Lightning a single scoring chance off the rush, posting a 9-0 advantage in that category according to Mike Kelly from the NHL Network.
Despite their impressive performance, they still needed to hang on for dear life in the last minute. Don’t expect the Isles to continue to play that perfectly as the Lightning are defending champions for a reason.
The Isles’ best, and potentially only, chance in this series is if a very significant portion of it is played at 5-on-5. For the most part, the Isles did a tremendous job of staying out of the box in the opener. The Lightning had just two powerplays in game one. At 5-on-5, there was no denying who the better team was.
Tampa’s only goal came on the powerplay with Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker to create a 6-on-4 skating advantage in the final minute. The Lightning are converting on over 43% of their man-advantage opportunities. In fact, 41% of Tampa Bay’s goals in these playoffs have come on the powerplay. Tampa hasn’t been that great at even strength throughout the playoffs, being outplayed in most of their games.
With star players like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, it’s no surprise that the Lightning powerplay is so dangerous. Many expected the elite talent on the Lightning would end up being the main difference in this series and ultimately propel the Lightning to a win. While this may still end up being the case, it was actually the Isles’ star player who was most noticeable in game one.
Mat Barzal opened the scoring for the Isles in game one and he now has four goals in his last five games after going without a goal in the first eight games of the postseason. Barzal was on the ice for both of New York’s goals in the series opener. In addition to his goal, he was noticeable throughout the night, including a play where he walked around one of the league’s best defensemen in Victor Hedman. It seems like Lightning coach Jon Cooper tasked Hedman with shutting down Barzal, but the Isles had a 6-1 advantage in shots on goal when the two were on the ice together.
To the surprise of many, the Isles got a better goaltending performance from Semyon Varlamov than the Lightning got from Andrei Vasilevskiy. That’s not to say that Vasilevskiy was bad; he was very solid. However, Ryan Pulock’s winning goal would be considered soft by most. Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 shots. However, Varlamov stopped 30 of 31 shots and had a shutout until the last minute of the game. If Varlamov can match Vasilevskiy, the Isles’ chance to pull off the upset improves dramatically.
Many won’t want to bet on the Isles in this spot. It’s hard to back the underdog to go up two games to none on the road against the defending champions. If you can’t possibly do it and want to back the Lightning to even the series, may I suggest the series line? Tampa Bay opened as nearly -300 favorites to advance, but after dropping the opener, that’s down all the way to -115. The Lightning will likely be favorites in every game of this series, so if they even the series, you’ll be sitting pretty.
However, the value once again is with the Isles in this spot as it has been almost all playoffs. The Islanders don’t play the prettiest hockey and oddsmakers can’t quite figure them out. If you’ve bet the Isles as underdogs throughout these playoffs, your bankroll is looking nice. At +172, we gotta go with the Isles here and hope their magical run continues.
The Pick: NY Islanders ML @ +172 (Click to bet)