The Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993 when they beat the Panthers Sunday night, now they’ll turn their attention to last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up; the Tampa Bay Lightning. The seven-game series kicks off Wednesday (7 p.m., NBCSN) at Amalie Arena.
John Tavares, the Isles’ captain, has been leading by example so far this postseason, tallying five goals and four assists. Only one other Islander skater, Frans Nielsen, has multiple goals through six playoff contests.Tavares and Nielsen play on the same line, so it will be crucial that the other Islander forwards start finding the back of the net with regularity. This includes the Islanders’ vaunted fourth line, which has struggled to get anything going offensively. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck have combined for zero points in six games and have taken a combined 24 penalty minutes.
The Islanders will be matched up against Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop, who shut down the Red Wings in five games to the tune of a 1.61 GAA and a save percentage of .950. Postseason success is nothing new for Bishop, as he recorded phenomenal numbers en route to the Stanley Cup Final last season (2.18 GAA, .921 save percentage). However, the Lighting blueliners aside from Victor Hedman and Matt Carle are a suspect unit, and they’ll be without Anton Stralman for an indefinite period of time due to a leg injury.
Fortunately for New York, it has also received great goaltender play so far this postseason. Thomas Greiss posted a 1.79 GAA and a .944 save percentage against Florida, and stopped all but one of the Panthers’ 42 shots in the Isles’ double overtime series-clinching victory. There’s still no timetable for Jaroslav Halak’s return from injury, so it’s up to Greiss to continue the incredible run he’s been on.
The Lightning may be the defending Eastern Conference Champions, but they are missing a very noteworthy piece from their 2015 team. Steven Stamkos, who lead all Tampa Bay scorers with 36 goals in the regular season, has been out since April 4 due to a surgery to remove a blot clot. He is not expected to return in this series, so that makes the Isles’ job of defending a little easier.
Much like the Islanders, the Lightning have been top-heavy in terms of offensive production early in the postseason; only five Lightning skaters notched a goal in the series with Detroit, and only three recorded multiple goals. Nikita Kucherov has five, Alex Killorn has three, and Tyler Johnson has two. Although these young forwards are electrifying in open space, they present less of a physical challenge than the Panthers’ unit did, so perhaps the Isles’ defensive corps will fare better than they did in the first round.
Prediction: The Islanders were fortunate to get by the Panthers as they skated either tied or behind for far too long. Their luck will run out against an experienced Lightning squad. Lightning in seven.