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Three Things the New York Islanders Need to Beat Tampa Bay

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New York Islanders Tampa Bay Lightning

New York Islanders versus Tampa Bay Lightning. Again. Boring, right? Hardly.

There was an old myth that says ‘lightning never strikes the same place twice’. Science has debunked that theory, proof being that the Empire State Building in New York is struck, on average, 25 times a year.

The New York Islanders hope to turn reality into folklore

By defeating the Boston Bruins in six games to advance to the final four for a second straight season, they ensured a rematch with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that knocked them out of the bubble in 2020, also in six games. 

The eye test, combined with the statistics on how that series actually went down, tells us the Islanders are closer to Tampa Bay than many imagine.

In case your memory needs jogging, and at my age, that means every 8 hours or so, New York lost a heartbreaker in Game 2 on a rare defensive lapse when Nikita Kucherov scored with seven seconds remaining. In Game 6, they lost in overtime after Brock Nelson missed a breakaway, and Mathew Barzal was far from the defensive player he is today. 

Taking Game 1 out of the equation, in which the Islanders began their fourth series with only one day of rest, Tampa Bay outscored the Islanders 12-10. That’s it. Just two goals is all that separated the Islanders from the Stanley Cup Final.

Also, the Islanders were without Casey Cizikas and lost a battered Adam Pelech following Game 5.

What can the Islanders do to write a different ending?

Keep Getting Balanced Scoring

The New York Islanders have never relied on one line, and there’s no reason to change that philosophy now. Also, head coach Barry Trotz has favored quality over quantity, which is why Islanders being outshot nightly doesn’t faze the bench boss. 

Line by line, the Islanders have scored 6, 15, 12, and 5 goals, respectively. That kind of a spread-out offense that can beat Tampa. If Mathew Barzal is the Barzal we saw in Round Two, it should give the Islanders more than a puncher’s chance in this series.

Special Teams

The New York Saints, er Islanders, must avoid, avoid and avoid penalties.

If you thought Pittsburgh’s power play was excellent in Round One, then you watched the incredible puck movement by Boston’s top line, Tampa Bay takes it to an otherworldly level. In the first two rounds, the Tampa Bay Lightning power play has converted at 41.7% (15-36).

Truly an insane output.

In Game 6 versus Boston, the Islanders outscored Boston 5-0 at 5v5. The Islanders allowed only two power-play goals. Putting Tampa Bay on the power play too often in this series will be a recipe for absolute disaster.

And let’s be honest, anything they get from their own power play is a bonus.

Goaltending

Goaltending alone wins, and can lose you a playoff series. You might think it’s an old narrative, but it’s true. We saw it in Round One (Tristian Jarry) and later in Round Two (Tuuka Rask). 

In Round Three, the New York Islanders face the best goaltender in the league, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has a .934 playoff save percentage and two shutouts. 

Semyon Varlamov, who carried the Islanders in the bubble, is no slouch, posting a .925 in seven games, but he will have to continue to stand on his head for New York to advance. For stretches in the Boston series, he was the only reason the team wasn’t blown out.

It doesn’t seem as if the Islanders are that far away from the defending champs, and last year’s defeat should still produce a sour taste in every player’s mouth. With another year of experience, one less round played, more rest prior to Game One, and Cizikas and Pelech healthy, this will be a more interesting series than many will project.

But everyone dismissed the Islanders in the previous two series, too.

Anyone blindly writing off the Islanders is entirely hating, don’t take it personally.

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