Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders – Eastern Conference Final Game 3 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-0)
The New York Islanders mental toughness is surely going to be tested right now as they enter Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final trailing 2-0 in the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Game 1 they got what they deserved. The Islanders were not sharp particularly defensively and lost the majority of puck battles in an 8-2 blowout loss. In Game 2, they deserved a better fate. The New York Islanders played the style of hockey that makes them formidable and very dangerous as they clamped down on defense and frustrated Tampa Bay for a large portion of that game. The Lightning were held to 21 shots on goal and after scoring 3 power-play goals in Game 1, they were 0-for-3 with the man advantage in Game 2. New York took away Tampa Bay’s time and space and did not give up much in the way of high danger scoring chances. The NY Islanders got the early 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay tied the game at 1-1 late in the 1st Period. The teams were locked in a stalemate for the rest of the game although the NY Islanders were still controlling the play and in Tampa Bay’s zone more than the other way around.
The Islanders had put themselves in a position to win the game but unfortunately, one of the few high danger scoring chances they allowed during the entire game occurred at the worst possible time. With less than 20 seconds left, the NY Islanders failed to clear the puck out of their own zone. Tampa Bay got a hold of it and one brilliant cross-ice pass later from defenseman Ryan McDonagh to forward Nikita Kucherov followed by a Kucherov one-timer to beat Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 9 seconds left gave the Lightning a stunning 2-1 lead and victory in Game 2. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the New York Islanders who probably deserved to win the game but they made a critical defensive lapse at the worst time and all it takes is one of those for a team as explosive and potent as Tampa Bay to capitalize.
Not all the news is good for Tampa Bay after Game 2 in spite of their 2-0 series lead. They will be shorthanded upfront for Game 3 with a couple of very key absences from their lineup. Alex Killorn was suspended for this game due to a blindside hit on Brock Nelson into the boards in Game 2. Brayden Point suffered a hamstring injury as well in Game 2. He left the game, didn’t return, and is questionable at best to play here in Game 3. Point’s absence would be a massive loss for the Lightning as he is their top-line center and has been their best player in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. Point has 8 goals and 23 points in the playoffs leading Tampa Bay in both playoff goals and points. Tampa Bay gutted through Game 2 without those two forwards for most of the game but being able to do so again in Game 3 will be a challenge especially against an Islanders team that essentially will be playing to stay alive and to have any shot of coming back to win this series.
The one negative about the NY Islanders performance as a team in Game 2 was their inability to finish and put the puck in the net on the majority of scoring chances they got. Matt Martin who is a fourth line forward scored the only goal for the Isles but it was a very quiet and disappointing night production wise for the Islanders best players like Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau among others. Those guys need to produce in a series such as this against a Tampa Bay squad that has routinely been getting balanced scoring and offensive contributions throughout their lineup. The Islanders can play solid defense all they want but if they don’t find ways to get those timely goals especially from their best players, they will not be playing many more games here in Edmonton beyond this one.
The NY Islanders in Game 2 showed they could go toe-to-toe with Tampa Bay and actually outplay them. It was very unfortunate for them they gave up the game-winning goal in the dying seconds. It had to be a brutal feeling losing a game they played so well in that maybe they are just too demoralized to bounce back here in Game 3. I don’t believe that will be the case though. This is a very gutsy, resilient NY Islanders team and I think their effort level will be very strong here just like it was in Game 2. It’s worth noting this is the first designated home game of the series for the NY Islanders which means they will have the last line change. That is significant with New York head coach Barry Trotz who likes to match lines and try to get the best possible advantage he can find with that. I’m not going to throw the Islanders in the dumpster just yet and will be backing them here in Game 3 but will split my wager up in half between the New York Islanders +120 in the 1st Period and +135 for the full game. I don’t expect the NY Islanders to lose a third straight game against what is now a bit of a depleted Tampa Bay squad upfront and if they do, it won’t be without a serious fight.
NY Islanders +120 (1st Period)
NY Islanders +135 (Full Game)