The Tampa Bay Lightning will open the Second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Islanders at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Apr. 27) on home ice at the Amalie Arena. The Islanders secured a trip to the second-round by virtue of their double overtime win on Sunday night over the Florida Panthers, making it their first series win since 1993.
There are two important things that the Tampa Bay Lightning is thankful for as they waited for their next opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. First and foremost is that the extended wait have given much needed extra time for those nagging injuries to heal and secondly, there is a possibility that defenseman Anton Stralman could return sometime during this series following his injury.
This is the second all-time meeting between the two clubs and the first since 2004 when they met in the Conference Quarterfinals where the Lightning won the series 4-1 and would eventually go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In that 2004 meeting, the Bolts and Islanders split the opening two games which were in held in Tampa at Amalie Arena (then called St. Petersburg Times Forum) before sweeping the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum and winning three consecutive games to take the series in five games.
During the regular season the Lightning went 1-2-0 against the Islanders where they split their two games at Amalie Arena and lost their only game at in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. In the Bolts lone win, they netted a season high seven goals.
However, since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Lightning are 5-2-1 at home against the Isles but are just 1-7-0 at New York over the last five seasons with all but one of those games being played at the Nassau Coliseum.
Round one of the playoffs saw the Lightning take down the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 behind outstanding goaltending from Ben Bishop and the Bolts top line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn.
During the Detroit series, Bishop allowed just a total of eight goals on 160 shots, good for a 1.61 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage. He capped the series off with a 1-0, 34-save performance for the shutout in Game 5. On a side note, Bishop has not allowed more than two goals in a playoff game since Game 2 against Chicago in last year’s Cup final.
Despite his playoff success of a 2.08 goals-against average and 4 shutouts in 30 games and a season that is Vezina worthy (35-21-4, 2.06 GAA, .926 save percentage, 6 shutouts), Bishop’s regular season against the Islanders (1-2-0) wasn’t very successful as he allowed 12 goals on 76 shots for a 4.41 goals-against average and a sub-par .842 save percentage in the three games.
As mentioned, the newly formed top line of Kucherov (5G, 3A), Johnson (2G, 5A) and Killorn (3G, 2A) combined for 10 of the Bolts 12 goals against Detroit. Killorn had the game-winner in Games 1 and 5 and Johnson tied a Lightning record with four points in Game 2. Jonathan Drouin had four assists with three coming in Game 4, including one on Ondrej Palat’s game-winning goal. During the regular season Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn each netted two goals with Killorn leading the Bolts in scoring (2G, 2A) against the Isles in the three-games
The Islanders had lost seven straight first-round series before taking down the Florida Panthers where John Tavares put the team on his shoulders along with a big assist from goaltender Thomas Greiss.
Tavares led the team in scoring (5G, 4A) which included netting the tying goal with less than a minute left in regulation and then scoring the double overtime winner in Game 6 that put the Isles into the second round. In the six games against Florida, the Isles scored 15 goals – Tavares netted five of them.
Goaltender Thomas Greiss, a journeyman backup netminder came into the Isles series against the Panthers as the No. 1 goalie with just 28 minutes of playoff experience under his belt. Greiss hasn’t performed like a first-time playoff starter as he was outstanding during the series against the Panthers posting a 1.79 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage that included three overtime wins.
During the regular season, Greiss started all three games against the Lightning posting a 3.38 goals-against average to go along with a .906 save percentage and will continue to serve as the top netminder for the Isles due to the lower-body injury of Jaroslav Halak.
The Lightning has the home ice advantage over the Islanders as the Bolts despite the Isles having more points. The Lightning was second in the Eastern Conference while the Islanders secured a trip to the playoffs as the wild-card team.
Opening series games have the Bolts playing under .500 as they’re 7-11 all-time in Game 1 and 4-5 all-time in Game 1 at home. On the other hand, the Lightning enters the second round with an all-time playoff record of 58-50, which includes a 27-26 mark on home ice.
The Lightning is 38-3-3 (regular season and postseason) when scoring three or more goals (12-29-2 when scoring less than three) and have played the most playoff games since the start of 2015 (31) than any other team in the league (2nd: Chicago 30). Additionally since the 2015 playoffs, the Lightning is 15-1 when scoring the first goal but are 3-12 when their opponent scores first.
No doubt this Eastern Conference semi-final will be hard fought as both teams will look for much needed secondary scoring. With a bit of luck the Bolts second line of Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin can capitalize on its scoring chances more in the second round. Drouin put up 13 shots against Detroit and hopefully his speed and playmaking skills come alive which would provide another scoring weapon.
Like the Bolts, the Islanders need more support from their secondary lines as Tavares and his line mates Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo can’t be expected to do all the scoring in this round.
Defensively the Bolts have played exceptional despite the loss of Anton Stralman. Victor Hedman has been a workhorse taking on the majority of the work on the blue line where he’s averaged 27:02 of ice-time. Matt Carle who had been a healthy scratch for 18 games during the regular season has found new life pairing with Hedman.
However, Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterov and Braydon Coburn need to provide more punch that will face a formidable Islanders top four group that will be led by Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic and Calvin DeHaan.
When it comes to special teams, the Bolts penalty-kill unit was exceptional against Detroit by allowing just one goal in 25 chances – while the Isles killed off 13 of 15 chances. The Bolts were lucky in the first-round having allowed just one goal in 25 chances since they lead the postseason for total penalties (42), minor penalties (35) and penalty minutes (127). The Detroit series featured the most combined penalty minutes (253) of any First Round series (second: Chicago-St. Louis, 218) and the most combined penalties (82) of any first round series (second: Washington-Philadelphia, 75).
The power-play came into play for the Isles specifically in Game 5 when they scored a key goal; those were the only scores in 21 chances. The Bolts scored just four times against the Red Wings, with three coming in one game and the other on a 5-3 advantage. During the regular season the Islanders had the edge as they were fourth in the league with the Bolts ranked 28th.
As for the coaching, the Lighting have the upper hand with Jon Cooper as he has been down this road before – not just with the Lightning, but throughout his career in the minor leagues. The toughest obstacle he faces against the Islanders will be finding the right matchups against an Islanders team that is hungry.
Overall, the edge belongs to the Lightning who has shown that they can win without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. The bottom line – the Lightning have more depth, they’re more experienced and will take the series in five.
Islanders: Ryan Pulock (upper body, 1-2 weeks), Mikhail Grabovski (concussion, indefinite), Jaroslav Halak (groin, indefinite), Anders Lee (broken leg, indefinite) Brian Strait (upper body, day to day), Josh Bailey (Upper-body, day-to-day)
Lightning: Steven Stamkos (blood clot, 1-3 months), Anton Stralman (broken left fibula, indefinite), J.T. Brown (Upper-body, day-to-day)
Game 1: Wed 4/27, 7pm: at Amalie Arena | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 2: Sat 4/30, 3pm: at Amalie Arena | NBC, TVA Sports
Game 3: Tue 5/3, 7pm: at Barclays Center NBCSN, TVA Sports
Game 4: Fri 5/6, 7pm: at Barclays Center| NBCSN, TVA Sports
Game 5: *Sun 5/8, TBD: at Amalie Arena | TBD
Game 6: *Tue 5/10, TBD: at Barclays Center | TBD
Game 7: *Thu 5/12, TBD: at Amalie Arena | TBD
Post-Season Stats – Lightning 5-games played /Islanders 6-games played
Points: N. KUCHEROV (8), T. JOHNSON (7), A. KILLORN (5)
Goals: N. KUCHEROV (5), A. KILLORN (3), T. JOHNSON (2)
Assists: T. JOHNSON (5), J. DROUIN (4), N. KUCHEROV (3)
PP Goals: N. KUCHEROV (3), O. PALAT (1)
GW Goals: A. KILLORN (2), T. JOHNSON (1), O. PALAT (1)
Points: J. TAVARES (9), K. OKPOSO (6), F. NIELSEN (4)
Goals: J. TAVARES (5), F. NIELSEN (3), K. OKPOSO (1)
Assists: K. OKPOSO (5), J. TAVARES (4), N. LEDDY (3)
PP Goals: F. NIELSEN (2), J. TAVARES (1), A. QUINE (1)
GW Goals: T. HICKEY (1), J. TAVARES (1), A. QUINE (1)