The NHL’s Eastern Conference Final kicks off on Monday night. The New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning will meet in Game 1 of their best of seven series to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. These two teams have fought hard to get here, which should lead to an exciting series opener. This game will drop the puck at around 8:00 PM Eastern time on NBCSN.
New York earned a record of 35-23-10 throughout the regular season, which had them as the seventh seed entering the playoffs. The Islanders knocked off the Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers to move into the Conference Finals. New York is coming off a win on September 5 and will look to carry some of that momentum into this one.
The Lightning finished out the regular season with a record of 43-21-6. Tampa Bay went 2-1 through the round robin to secure the second seed in the East. The Lightning knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Boston Bruins to earn a spot here in the East Finals. Tampa Bay has been off since August 31, so they will look to avoid a sluggish start.
This is an important Game 1 as both teams will look to set the pace for this series. New York and Tampa Bay both play very different styles, which should lead to an interesting series. The Islanders will look to come out quick to push the pace on the Lightning, while Tampa Bay will look to get back in a groove after a week off.
These two teams met up three times throughout the regular season. The first meeting was in New York on November 1. Yanni Gourde and Ryan McDonagh both scored for the Lightning, but it was not enough. Anders Lee finished with a goal and two assists, while Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal and Derick Brassard all had a goal and an assist. The Islanders won 5-2 to win at home.
The second game of this season series was in Tampa Bay on December 9. Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning, but Tampa Bay still fell short. Brock Nelson scored two goals, while Josh Bailey and Anders Lee had a goal and an assist each. Semyon Varlamov stopped 31 of the 32 shots against him as the Islanders won 5-1 on the road.
The third and most recent game of the season series between these two teams was in Tampa Bay on February 8. Derick Brassard scored for New York, but this time it was the Islanders who fell short. Brayden Point scored a goal and an assist, while Nikita Kucherov finished with two assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 17 of 18 shots as the Lightning won 3-1 at home.
New York surprised the Lightning in the first two games of this season series as they took them by dominant scored. Tampa Bay was able to win the final game, but lost the season series 2-1. These teams have not met in quite a while though, which will likely lead to a feeling out period for both teams.
The Islanders struggled a bit on special teams throughout the regular season. New York finished with a power play percentage of 17.3 percent, while killing off 80.7 percent of the penalties against them. In the postseason, the Islanders have capitalized on 17 percent of their power play opportunities, while stopping their opponents on 82.2 percent of their power play chances.
Tampa Bay finished the regular season with a strong special teams’ unit. The Lightning scored on 23.2 percent of their power play chances and killed off 81.4 percent of opposing teams power play attempts. In the postseason. Tampa Bay has posted a 17.1 percent success rate and an 81.3 percent kill rate throughout the playoffs.
These two teams have put up very similar special team numbers throughout the regular season. The biggest thing though is that New York’s penalty kill met with the struggling Philadelphia power play, while the Lightning’s power play had to face Boston’s penalty kill. I believe that the Lightning have the better special teams in this series.
I believe that Semyon Varlamov will get the start in the crease for the Islanders. Varlamov has gone 9-4 throughout the playoffs, posting a .921 save percentage and a GAA of 2.00. New York could also go with Thomas Greiss, who has appeared in three games, going 2-1. Greiss has a save percentage of .960 and a 1.08 GAA, including a shutout in Game 7 against the Flyers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the nod in the net for Tampa Bay in Game 1 of this series. Vasilevskiy finished out the regular season with a record of 35-14-3. He earned a .917 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA throughout those games. Vasilevskiy has put up a save percentage of .931 and a GAA of 1.91 throughout this playoff run.
Vasilevskiy has been playing really well throughout this run, while New York has an interesting choice between two really strong goalies to start this series. The Islanders turned to Greiss in Game 7 of the second round and it will be interesting to see if they keep rolling with him or go back to Varlamov, who has been great throughout this playoff run.
These two teams will look to start out the series strong with a win. This will be a classic battle as the Lightning boast one of the deepest offenses in the league, while New York’s defense has been suffocating their opponent’s offenses. The Islanders will look to start out stronger after playing a couple days ago, while Tampa Bay played last on August 31.
BetOnline has the Lightning listed as a -153 against the money line in this one. This implies that Tampa Bay will win this game around 60.5 percent of the time. I believe that with New York playing in an intense Game 7 only a couple days ago, they will come out faster. This could give the Islanders a good chance to pull off an upset, so as big underdogs, they have a lot of value.