The Isles head back down to Florida (this time to Tampa), to open up their second round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. The Lightning are well rested, and haven’t played since April 21st when they wrapped up their series vs Detriot in 5 games. The Islanders are coming off two straight double overtime victories, but had Monday and Tuesday to rest up. Tampa is a strong team, but they enter the series missing arguably their two top players, Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. Coach Jon Cooper hopes that Stralman can make it back sometime in the middle of the series, but we will have to wait and see.
For the Isles, the same keys to victory I highlighted for their first round matchup, are equally important this time around:
- Be Physical: The Islanders were extremely physical and dominated Florida in the hits category. The 4th line bash trio started slow, but played better as the series went on. They will need more of the same.
- Special Teams: The Islanders special teams special teams played a key part in the series, including the overtime winner by Alan Quine in Game 5.
- Secondary Scoring: Besids the top line, the Islanders had goals from Ryan Pulock, Thomas Hickey (OT winner), Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Shane Prince and Alan Quine (OT winner). They will need more from these guys, and can’t rely on John Tavares to do all the scoring. Luckily JT bailed them out in Game 6 with the game tying, and the game winning goal in overtime.
- Goaltending: Thomas Greiss started off the Panthers series a bit shaky, but came up big when it counted. Jesus Greiss made some huge saves, and kept the Islanders close enough to win each game. He only allowed 4 goals in the final 3 games of the series, and will look to continue his hot play. Greiss, Greiss baby.
- DEFENSE!: The Isles defense struggled at times with the strong forecheck that the Panthers laid on them. During some stretches it seemed the Islanders d-men couldn’t control the puck to even clear the zone, or make an outlet pass to a forward. They should have an easier time with Tampa, as they don’t play as physical as the Panthers, neither do they possess the same forechecking ability. Johnny Boychuck seems to be dealing with some sort of injury and just doesn’t look right, but Leddy, Hamonic and deHaan played well. Even Marek Zidlicky gave the Islanders some key minutes after the injury to Ryan Strome.
- John Tavares vs Victor Hedman: Back in the 2009 draft, Tavares was drafted number one overall by the Islanders, and Hedman was drafted number two overall by Tampa. Both have had strong careers so far, and will forever be link by that 2009 draft. Hedman is a defenseman and will have his hands full with Tavares. This battle will be a key matchup in the series and will have a major impact on how it goes.
This is a tough series for me to pick. The Islanders were outplayed by the Panthers for most of last series (especially 5on5), and were lucky to escape with a victory in 6 games. The Islanders did dominate Tampa Bay in their regular season matchups, and there seems to be some type of magic going on with this team. I originally thought if the Islanders could get past Florida, that they would have a good chance of advancing passed the second round, and thus making the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. This one will be close, but I’m sticking with my gut.
Islanders in 7.