New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions: Game 5 Picks
Two spots in the Stanley Cup Final are up for grabs and both semi-final series are now tied at two games a piece. We’ve basically created two best-of-three sprints to the end. On Monday night, the New York Islanders will head to Tampa Bay to face-off against the defending champion Lightning in a pivotal game five.
New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions
Series Tied 2-2
Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Semyon Varlamov are spectacular goaltenders who were in the Vezina Trophy discussion this season. However, it’s Ryan Pulock who has the save of the series to this point.
The Isles took a 3-0 lead in game four but were forced to hold on for dear life after Tampa Bay scored two quick goals early in the third period. With five seconds left, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh had the puck at the face-off circle where he pulled off a nifty spin-o-rama move. Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov was caught way out of his net and it looked like McDonagh was going to slide the puck past him into an empty net.
As the puck was rolling towards the gaping 4x6 net, Ryan Pulock slid into the crease behind his fallen netminder and swept the puck off the goal line. The Isles had survived the game and therefore evened the series.
Despite their big win in game four, New York is substantial underdogs in Tampa Bay for game five. This is nothing new for the Isles, as they’ve closed as underdogs in all 16 playoff games they’ve played to this point. Much to the chagrin of oddsmakers, the Isles have won 10 of those games.
If you look at the underlying metrics, the Isles have been the better team at 5-on-5 in this series. They have an 8.95 to 6.99 advantage in expected goals through the first four games, good for better than a 56% share in that category. The Isles have generated 38 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 while the Lightning have just 29. New York has to be pleased with their game at even strength through the first four games of this series.
Just as important for the Isles is their ability to slow down the Tampa Bay powerplay. The best way to keep their powerplay off the board is to not take penalties, and the Isles have done a tremendous job in that regard. In game two, the Isles struggled with discipline, giving the Lightning five opportunities with the man advantage. Unsurprisingly, the Lightning won that game comfortably and it was the least competitive game of the series.
However, in games one, three and four, the Isles have given the Lightning just four powerplay opportunities combined. They took two penalties in game one and just one each in the last two games. When the Lightning have gotten their opportunities, the Isles have actually done a decent job. Tampa Bay has two powerplay goals on nine opportunities in the series. While 22% is not a bad conversion rate, it pales to the 43% rate that the Lightning were converting in the first two rounds.
Mat Barzal scored for the Isles in game four, giving him three goals in the first four games of this series. Going back to the second round, Barzal has six goals in his last eight playoff games. Barzal is clearly the Isles most talented forward, so him producing at this rate is a beautiful sight for Isles fans. Kyle Palmieri got moved up to the top line to play on Barzal’s wing for parts of game four, so it’ll be interesting to see if Barry Trotz continues to play with that pairing.
Another key for the Isles has been the play of their fourth line. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck are known as “the identity line” and they’ve been instrumental in setting the tone with their physical play and ability to wear opposing teams down through these playoffs. They’ve contributed offensively the last two games, with Clutterbuck scoring in game three and Martin scoring the game winning goal in game four.
All of this talk about the Isles shouldn’t take away from the Tampa Bay Lightning. While they might not be dominating this series like many expected at the start of it, they are still a very dangerous group. The Lightning almost erased a 3-0 deficit in 20 minutes in game four, which was a scary sign of what they’re capable of.
Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov have been the focal point of the Lightning offense. Kucherov far and away leads all players in points in these playoffs with 24. Nobody else has more than 16. Brayden Point leads the postseason with 12 goals. The second most is Brad Marchand with 8. Point has goals in seven straight playoff games and he has goals in nine of his last ten games.
The Lightning definitely have an advantage in this series in terms of high-end talent. Point, Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are all elite players in this league. Additionally, Vasilevskiy would be considered by most as a better goalie than Varlamov, giving the Lightning an advantage between the pipes.
I don’t think it’s going out on a limb here by saying the Lightning are probably the better team in this series. However, the Isles have played right with them through four games and they are definitely the value side in this spot.
As mentioned earlier, the Isles have been underdogs in every game they’ve played in these playoffs, but they’re still here, tied against the defending champions in the semi-finals. Despite the series being tied at two, if you bet the Isles blindly in every game of this series you’d be up nearly a whole unit.
When these teams played on Long Island on Saturday, the Isles closed as +110 underdogs. Two days later, the series shifts to Tampa Bay and the Isles have shot up to a +162 underdog. I’ve often been of the mindset that home-ice advantage is severely overrated in the playoffs, especially for elite teams like the Lightning. They are just as good on the road as they are at home, so this big of an adjustment is too much.
At +162, I can’t pass up the Isles in this spot. They’ve been arguably the better team at 5-on-5 in this series according to most metrics. They’ve already won two game fives on the road in these playoffs in the first two rounds. After Pulock’s miraculous save in game four, it feels like these Isles might be a team of destiny, so as large underdogs, I’ll back them here.