Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders Eastern Conference Finals Predictions

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders NHL
Tampa Bay vs. New York, Eastern Conference Finals

Anthony Cirelli scored a little more than 13 minutes into overtime to send the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final with a win over the New York Islanders. Once again, Tampa Bay had a substantial advantage in shots on goal but the two teams scored just once each in the first period for all the scoring in regulation. The Lightning squandered all five of their power plays as they only had five shots over the course of those 10 minutes on the man advantage. The Islanders held their own despite being outshot 48-27, but they could only withstand the Lightning’s pressure for so long.

Tampa Bay Lightning win 4-2

The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated this series, but it still took six games for them to outlast the Islanders. As the series went along, the Lightning continued to dominate the shot totals but did not capitalize on their many opportunities. In the final five games, Tampa Bay scored 12 goals on 179 shots, which was a worse shooting percentage than the Islanders’ 10 goals on 141 shots. This was especially true in the last two games when the Lightning and Islanders both scored three goals, but Tampa Bay had an 85-51 advantage in shots on goal. Dallas won the last round by surviving an inefficient shooting team and capitalizing on its chances, so Tampa Bay needs to be wary about the Stars.

Game 1

September 7th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The Tampa Bay Lightning are on a vengeance tour after being knocked out in the first round last season, and the next foe in their path is the New York Islanders, the surprise story of the bubble. The Islanders were in a tailspin when the season went on pause, but they found their stride in the bubble with wins in 10 of their first 13 games in the postseason. Everything has been working for New York so far, but it has yet to face an opponent of Tampa Bay’s quality. The Lightning have dispatched two defense-oriented teams already this postseason and now face a third with a trip to the NHL Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Tampa Bay has proven itself as the class of the Eastern Conference in this postseason with easy romps over Columbus and Boston. The Lightning have surprisingly struggled on special teams with just four power-play goals on 30 attempts, but three of those goals came in the blowout Game 3 win over Boston. The Lightning have also allowed a power-play goal in seven of its 10 playoff games, which provides an opportunity for the Islanders. However, since arriving for the restart, Tampa Bay has scored 40 goals in 13 games with a scoring percentage of 8.66 percent, 1.5 percentage points better than the opposition.

New York is the last team standing from the opening qualifying round after the Islanders held off a furious rally from Philadelphia with a near-flawless Game 7. The Islanders shut down the high-scoring Capitals in the first round, but that Washington team never really clicked inside the bubble, whereas Tampa Bay has certainly found its stride. The Islanders hadn’t allowed 30 shots on goal in the playoffs until the Philadelphia series, and the Flyers accomplished that feat four times. New York might struggle if it allows Tampa Bay to hit that threshold too often, but it will also need to do better than the 22.2 shots per game the Lightning have allowed in the playoffs. New York will need more volume of shots to continue its eight-game streak with at least three goals scored.

This series is a classic battle of offense against defense with the Islanders’ compact defensive system facing off with the speed, skill and grit of the Lightning’s offense. What will be important to watch is making sure Tampa Bay doesn’t get frustrated by the Islanders and continues to plow ahead with its attack and pressure. New York’s offense has shown some sparks, but it’s been highly-concentrated scoring across the top-two lines. The Islanders will need more secondary scoring and excellent special teams to survive this series with Tampa Bay, and I don’t know if that will happen. This series might go the distance, but I think Tampa Bay stops the Islanders one game short and the Lightning win the series in six, which you can bet at +360 odds.

Although I think the Lightning will win the series, it will be a week since Tampa Bay last played, so there will be some rust as they face an in-form Islanders team. What we saw from New York in the last round was an ability to take over important games with its defense and using it to fuel offense. We saw in Game 1 against Boston in the last series how a long layoff could affect Tampa Bay, and I expect we’ll see similar issues Monday. It won’t be pretty, but I’d bet on the Islanders at +125 odds to win Game 1.

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Game 2 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 1-0)

September 9th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The first game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders got out of hand early, and there wasn’t much the Islanders could do about it. The Lightning dominated in all three zones and skated past New York with ease to open up the conference finals with a resounding victory. Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde both scored twice for the Lightning, and Nikita Kucherov scored once and added four assists in his return after being knocked out of Game 5 in the previous series. New York started Thomas Greiss after his Game 7 shutout, but he was yanked less than 11 minutes into the game after allowing three goals on nine shots.

Well, Tampa Bay was certainly ready to play after a week off with a goal just a minute and 14 seconds into the game and three within the first 11 minutes. The eight goals the Lightning put up in a dominant effort is a message to the other three teams in the postseason that Tampa Bay is on a mission to win the Stanley Cup this year and no one will stand in its way. The Lightning were clinical with their 34 shots on goal and they suffocated the Islanders in allowing just 24 shots on goal. All of Tampa Bay’s big players scored in the victory to help gain some confidence early in this series and it was just another routine night for the Lightning. The challenge now is to handle the energy the Islanders will bring to start Game 2, but that shouldn’t be an issue for Tampa Bay.

It might be easy for New York to just forget this game and move onto the next one, but that Game 1 performance brought a lot of omens with it as well. The Islanders might have limited the Lightning to just 34 shots, but they were premium chances as Tampa Bay didn’t miss the net until about a minute left in the game. New York blocked 12 shots, but it did nothing to prevent the Lightning from doing what they wanted in the offensive zone. Barry Trotz will clearly make adjustments, but the speed with which Tampa Bay played clearly bothered the Islanders and there might not be enough changes in the world to fix it. The Islanders also need to create more than 24 shots on goal if they want to survive this series.

Tampa Bay’s speed is winning this series so far, and I don’t expect that to change in Game 2 no matter who starts in goal for the Islanders. New York is struggling to handle how quickly Tampa Bay can move the puck and it doesn’t have a good enough offense to keep up with the Lightning either. Tampa Bay’s gameplan hasn’t changed much since the first series with Columbus and so far no one has been able to slow them down too much. We are fortunate that the NHL betting sites in New Jersey haven’t made Tampa Bay more decisive of a favorite, so I’m going to bet on the Lightning to win in regulation at +100 odds.

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Game 3 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 2-0)

September 11th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The Tampa Bay Lightning scored a late goal to take a 2-0 lead over the New York Islanders in their NHL playoffs series. Nikita Kucherov one-timed a cross-ice feed with 7.8 seconds left to score the winning goal as the Lightning escaped a game in which it never was able to sustain much offense. New York outshot Tampa Bay 28-21 and scored a goal less than two minutes into the game, but that was the Islanders’ only tally of the game. The Lightning equalized by the end of the first period then held on across four New York power plays to win the game late.

This was not a great game for Tampa Bay, which was outshot, outhit and lost the faceoff battle to the Islanders. However, the Lightning did an excellent job at limiting the Islanders at even strength and making it just as difficult for them to create offense as New York was making it on them. Almost half of Tampa Bay’s shots came from defensemen, which was the strategy that worked so well for them against Boston in the previous round. If the Lightning can continue to fire those blasts from the blue line and create some havoc around the net, good things will come of it, as we saw on the winning goal in Game 2.

New York squandered a fantastic opportunity to even the series and are now in a dangerous hole of having to win four of the next five games. The Islanders limited the Lightning to just 21 shots over 60 minutes and blocked 15 other attempts while getting 28 pucks to Andrei Vasilevskiy and having 24 other shots blocked by the Tampa Bay defense. Yet New York scored just once in the game and couldn’t convert on 13 shots across its four power plays. There is an issue with just 15 shots at even strength, but the Islanders held Tampa Bay to just 16 at even strength, which means there was not great discrepancy in that side of the game.

If the Islanders couldn’t win Game 2 with how well they played, then I have a hard time believing they can win Game 3. I’m skeptical that New York can handcuff Tampa Bay to just 21 shots in a game again in this series, which means the Islanders will need far better goaltending than what they’ve received through two games. New York also needs to take better advantage of its power plays because the penalty kill is clearly a weakness in Tampa Bay. Ultimately, the Lightning seem to be just a tad bit too skilled for the Islanders, so I’m picking Tampa Bay at +108 odds to win in regulation on the NHL betting sites in New Jersey.

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Game 4 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 2-1)

September 13th, 3:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The New York Islanders had three players score a goal and an assist as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning to inch closer in their NHL playoffs series. New York had a strong start to the game then scored two goals in two minutes in the second period to take a 3-1 lead. However, the Islanders let the Lightning tie the game midway through the third period before Brock Nelson scored the eventual winner with less than four minutes left in the game. It was a series-saving goal for the Islanders, who likely needed to win in regulation given their struggles in overtime and Tampa Bay’s success in extra time.

New York got much better goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and were able to sustain more even strength pressure on the Lightning. However, the biggest confidence booster has to be winning this game in regulation after wasting a 3-1 lead in the third period. It would have been easy for the Islanders to pack up after squandering that lead and just try to play for overtime, but they were able to stay resilient and regain their composure well. New York’s best scorers were very active now that the Islanders controlled the last change as the home team, which is something that will need to continue if the Islanders are to win this series.

Tampa Bay’s bottom-six forwards struggled to deal with the Islanders’ top lines in this game and it certainly cost the Lightning. We saw the quality of the Lightning in tying the game in the third period, but then surrendering a goal with momentum on their side is a tough pill to swallow. Tampa Bay is still the better team in this series, but we’ve seen the last two games where the Islanders have been able to frustrate the Lightning and make it difficult for them around the goal. It’ll be much harder for the Lightning to overcome multiple-goal deficits in the future, so they will need to stay disciplined in the defensive zone.

It will be interesting to see if any of the emotions from the confrontation at the end of Game 3 will carry over into Sunday’s Game 4. There is clearly some animosity brewing between these two teams, which is always healthy in a playoff series like the conference finals. New York did an excellent job at using the last change to its advantage in Game 3 and I expect the Islanders will try to exploit those matchups again in Game 4. However, I am concerned about the Islanders’ ability to keep a lead against a dangerous Lightning squad, so I’m picking Tampa Bay to win on the NHL betting sites in the New Jersey at -139 odds on the moneyline.

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Game 5 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-1)

September 15th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

The Tampa Bay Lightning responded to the New York Islanders’ opening tally with two goals in 27 seconds to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the NHL playoffs series. Tampa Bay is now just one win away from advancing back to the Stanley Cup Final and avenging its horrendous playoffs performance from last year. The Islanders meanwhile are struggling for answers to the Tampa Bay attack, which again forced many problems in taking 36 shots while limiting the Islanders to just 27. Tampa Bay won more than 60 percent of faceoffs and the teams were equal on hits, blocks and power plays, a stat line that will not lead to many New York victories as it faces elimination.

What makes Tampa Bay so dangerous is the fact that it can move on from previous games so quickly. The Lightning’s bottom-six forwards struggled in Game 3, but they were at the forefront of the offensive attack in Game 4 for Tampa Bay. It was the third line that tied the game 15 seconds after New York took the lead that again turned the momentum of the game. The Lightning just are an unrelenting force that can overwhelm teams, and they certainly did that to the Islanders in Game 4. After New York took the lead midway through the second period, Tampa Bay’s quick response lined up that seemed to knock the wind out of the Islanders’ sails.

New York reverted back to old habits in Game 4 and let Tampa Bay dictate the pace and control the game. The Islanders truly lost control after they allowed two goals within 27 seconds of taking the lead in the second period, and that seemed to send them on a spiral down. New York didn’t win any of the key stat groups, which is not a strategy for it to win when it is the inferior team talent-wise. Tampa Bay’s 36 shots were too many for the Islanders to allow, and now they lose the advantage of last change heading into Game 5. It’ll take a special effort for the Islanders to advance this to a Game 6 after their performance in Game 4.

Tampa Bay is the heavy favorite to win Game 5 at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey and it’s hard to see a path to victory for New York. The Islanders will need some luck in terms of line matchups to keep the Lightning at bay, and they will need to also create more scoring chances for themselves in order to keep up with Tampa Bay. It’ll be a tough ask for the Islanders, who have struggled at times to keep the Lightning’s attack under control, and they’ll need to play like they did in the first 40 minutes of Game 3 if they want a chance to survive. Therefore, I’ll take Tampa Bay at +100 odds to win in regulation.

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Game 6 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-2)

September 17th, 8:00 p.m., Rogers Place

Jordan Eberle scored 12 minutes and 30 seconds into the second overtime to keep the New York Islanders alive against the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York took the lead in the first period on a power-play goal, but Tampa Bay answered early in the second period. The two teams then found themselves in a defensive struggle for the next hour of game time before Eberle’s tally forced a Game 6. Tampa Bay led New York 37-24 in shots, but couldn’t capitalize on a four-minute power play late in regulation that bled into the first overtime and finished 0 for 3 on the man advantage.

New York’s desire to play a physical game likely helped its effort in Game 5 as its defense really limited the Tampa Bay offense. The Islanders are clearly going to need to rely on its defense to climb back into this series, and what we saw in Game 5 was a positive in that direction. What needs to happen in Game 6 is the Islanders must take advantage of the last change to help spark their offensive stars. When your best scorers are only taking two shots per game, it’s going to be hard for them to score enough to keep pace with the Lightning. The other issue is New York needs to take its first-period energy and translate it to the second and third periods. The Islanders have scored in the first period of four of the five games in this series, and they have scored the first goal in the last four games. They have scored in just three other regulation periods.

Tampa Bay lost out on a great chance to close out this series, and now the Lightning are forced to play another game, which is a lot in this bubble situation. The condensed schedule had put an onus on teams and Tampa Bay is certainly not immune from that. The Lightning are doing an excellent job defensively at keeping the Islanders’ offense silent, but that energy needs to come out in the first period as well. That is a dangerous precedent to set for the Lightning and something they must address especially if the Islanders can lock down the Lightning’s offense. However, Game 5 can easily just be seen as a blip in the radar compared to how Tampa Bay has played in the other four games of this series.

Although the Islanders won Game 5, the fact they had just 24 shots over more than 90 minutes of hockey is not a longterm successful strategy. New York did well to hold the Lightning to only 37 shots in the game, but if it cannot generate offense, it’s going to be hard to win the game. Tampa Bay had the right players shooting the puck at least in the game, so if the Islanders cannot slow down the Lightning’s best players, that also bodes well for Tampa Bay in Game 6. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey have Tampa Bay listed at -159 odds on the moneyline, but I’ll take a little risk and pick Tampa Bay at +105 odds to win in regulation.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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