NHL Playoff Picks - Lightning vs. Islanders Prediction
The New York Islanders earned a split in Tampa Bay in the first two games of their semi-final series against the Lightning. New York now has home-ice advantage as the series shifts to the raucous Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
Series tied 1-1
Through two games, we’ve seen what both of these teams are capable of and why it has the potential to be a long and compelling series.
In game one, the Islanders were clinical in slowing down the Tampa Bay offensive attack. They stayed out of the penalty box and they allowed the Lightning absolutely nothing off the rush. The Islanders won the game 2-1, with Tampa Bay’s lone goal coming in the final minute during a 6-on-4 skating advantage. For all intents and purposes, it was the Isles at the top of their shutdown, frustrate the opponent style of hockey.
In game two, Tampa Bay was able to stretch the ice and create off the rush. Additionally, the Isles were not strong with their puck management with two goals coming directly off defensive zone turnovers. Perhaps most importantly was the Isles’ inability to stay out of the penalty box. Combine all these factors and it led to a 4-2 win for the Lightning.
Despite their loss in game two, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Islanders’ showing on the road. Through two games of this series, they have a 3.89 - 3.26 advantage in terms of expected goals as well as a 17-15 advantage in high danger chances. The Isles got what they wanted on the road, earning a split. Things will certainly not get easier for the Lightning on Long Island.
A lot was made about the officiating in game two with both teams likely getting goals that they didn’t deserve. Brock Nelson’s goal for the Isles came on the powerplay after Brayden Point was whistled for goaltender interference. However, Point was clearly pushed into Semyon Varlamov by Isles’ defenseman Adam Pelech. On the other side, Ondrej Palat’s goal to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead was scored when the Lightning had seven players on the ice.
Additionally, there were nine minor penalties called in the game. The Lightning had five powerplay opportunities. If the series continues to be officiated in a tight way, that greatly favors the Lightning. The Lightning are scoring on nearly 40% of their powerplays in these playoffs and they already have a powerplay goal in each of the first two games of this series. The Islanders were one of the least penalized teams in the league during the regular season and officials tend to swallow their whistles in the playoffs. The Isles better hope that’s the case in game three and moving forward.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau didn’t play for most of the third period for the Isles in game two. Coach Barry Trotz said he was held out for precautionary reasons once the Lightning started pulling away. Trotz also said that Pageau will play in Game Three.
This is particularly important for the Isles as Pageau becomes a huge piece of the puzzle with the series shifting to Long Island. Trotz now has the last change, being at home, and gets to select his matchups. In the first two rounds, Trotz has used the defensive pairing of Pelech and Ryan Pulock as well as Pageau with linemates Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to shutdown the top players of the opponent.
The five-man unit did a great job of slowing down the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak in the first two rounds. In this series, they’ll be tasked with slowing down Tampa Bay’s first line consisting of Point, Palat and Nikita Kucherov. The trio was quiet in game one, but in game two both Point and Palat scored with Kucherov picking up three assists.
The Isles got a bit of a scare in game two when Semyon Varlamov was forced to leave the game after taking a hit from Point in the earlier-mentioned goalie interference collision. Rookie back-up goaltender Ilya Sorokin was forced to play the final seven minutes of the first period before Varlamov was cleared to return for the second period.
The Isles will need a better performance from Varlamov in game three than they got in game two. Varlamov gave up two questionable goals in the third period that allowed the Lightning to put the game away. We know what Andrei Vasilevskiy is capable of for Tampa Bay, so Varlamov needs to match that or come close to it for the Isles to have a chance.
I’m confident in the Isles’ ability to slow down Tampa Bay’s top players. Pelech and Pulock have been shutting down elite forwards all season long. I also like the way the Islanders are playing and I think they’ve played the Lightning pretty evenly at 5-on-5. I expect Trotz to preach staying out of the penalty box after their undisciplined showing in game two.
I do think the Isles have some value at +130 as a home underdog. However, I’d lean towards the total here. When the Isles are on top of their game, we’ll see a lot of games like we saw in game one. I can see the Isles’ focusing on slowing down the Lightning and trying to grind out a win.
The line is currently 5.5 goals at some sportsbooks such as FanDuel. If you can find the hook, I’d look towards placing your bets there. However, it seems like the line is trending towards a flat five. I would also play under five goals at plus-money.
Lightning vs. Islanders Picks
Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -149