If that was the last game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, at least the venue went out with a bang. If it wasn’t, it means that the New York Islanders are in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 7 between the Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be on Friday night and it will be a win or go home scenario for both teams. The Lightning are favored in the -165 range at BetOnline Sportsbook with a total of 5 after failing to finish the series in six games. The Islanders have given them everything that they can handle and now it all comes down to one game.
New York Islanders
Game 5 was ugly for the Islanders, but the margin of defeat means nothing in the playoffs. In fact, losing 8-0 is better than losing in the fashion the Lightning just did in Game 6. That fifth game remains the outlier of the series. Tampa Bay outscored New York 5-0 at 5-v-5. In the other five games of the series, the Islanders have 10 goals at 5-v-5 and the Lightning have nine.
It has been a really even matchup, much to the surprise of many. We all knew that head coach Barry Trotz was an evil genius and would have a strong game plan to slow Tampa Bay down, but the suffocating defense and the counterattack ability of the Islanders has really been impressive to watch. While other teams made excuses about the Bolts bringing Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov off the shelf with no salary cap to worry about, the Islanders have simply embraced the underdog role.
They’ve also embraced their mean side, too. That was plenty evident when Scott Mayfield’s cross-check to the ribs of Kucherov sent the Lightning star out of the game with just 45 seconds played. The Bolts were down a forward the rest of the way and it will be interesting to see if the extra strain on the remaining forwards has any impact in Game 7.
It will also be interesting to see if Kucherov can come back. It was a pretty gnarly cross-check and one that should have been called a penalty. A power play there could have been the difference in the game, but we’ll never know.
One guy that was a difference maker was Semyon Varlamov. After getting run from Game 5 during the first period barrage from the Lightning, Varlamov looked much better in Game 6 with 22 saves on 24 shots. Credit the Islanders for holding Tampa Bay to 24 shots, but Varly was big when he needed to be.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov is a huge part of what the Lightning do and a real difference maker on the ice, but if he cannot go in Game 7, at least they have a ton of experience playing without him. Kucherov made his season debut for Game 1 of the first round against the Florida Panthers. Other guys will simply have to step up in his place if he is unable to play.
Guys like Brayden Point, who has scored a goal in nine straight playoff games. He sits one off the record. Guys like Anthony Cirelli, who has been a factor on just about every shift with a scoring chance or a big play. Guys like Yanni Gourde, role players that are out there to be trusted in key situations. Even a guy like Steven Stamkos, who had two goals in the 8-0 rout.
The Lightning won’t panic. They’ll be back on home ice with the last change, so even if Kucherov can’t go, they should be able to find a way to get some favorable matchups with their top scoring threats. Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t play bad in Game 6 by any means, though he’d like to have Mayfield’s game-tying short-side goal back.
Vasilevskiy stopped 25 of 28 shots and has a .933 SV% in the series. The Islanders have gotten two more high-danger chances than the Lightning, but Tampa Bay’s high-danger SV% is much higher than what Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have been able to provide at 5-v-5. It could very well come down to Vasilevskiy in the deciding game.
Islanders vs. Lightning Free Pick
A very even series like this one deserves a Game 7 and I’m glad we’ve got it. The playoffs have been really good thus far and this series has been excellent. With or without Kucherov, the Lightning have enough offense to win this game. It will take another all-out defensive effort from the Islanders, which we should get. The play here is under 5. It seems unlikely that we get a high-scoring game with so much on the line. It should be another tight, low-scoring affair.
Pick: Under 5