What happened in Game 3 cannot happen again to the New York Islanders. When they are the better team at 5-v-5, they need to win the game. It was the Tampa Bay Lightning that won on Thursday night, though, and took a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 on Saturday night.
The Islanders have to be happy with how they played and happy with how they’ve matched up in this series, but Game 3 proved to be a huge missed opportunity. The officiating in this series has been dreadful and fell on the wrong side for the Isles on Thursday night, but they can still make this a best-of-three with a win.
Tampa Bay is a small road favorite in the -130 range at Bovada Sportsbook with a total of 5 for Saturday’s very important matchup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
This has to be a frustrating series for the Lightning. They are up 2-1 in the series, but space has been hard to come by and it has been a much more physical brand of hockey than they are used to. We have seen the Lightning open up the game and the pace a little bit with more stretch passes and more active pinches from their defensemen in the offensive zone, so that has been one key adjustment.
What is really amazing, though, is that the New York Islanders have more high-danger chances at 5-v-5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not like one or two chances. How about TEN more chances? The scoring chances are even at 72 apiece, but the Islanders hold a 31-21 advantage in high-danger chances.
Tampa Bay, with all their talent and their $18 million over the salary cap roster, has been outplayed by the Islanders at 5-v-5. Not many people would have seen that coming. The Lightning still lead the series and they’ve found ways to win games, which is what good teams do. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been terrific, especially with the quality of shots against, and Semyon Varlamov has not been as good.
That has been a big part of the equation in this series. One player that has not been a big part of the series is Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov has three assists and had a nice Game 2, but he has the lowest Individual Expected Goals For at 5-v-5 of any Lightning player. Steven Stamkos is the fourth-lowest. The Lightning have relied on other guys for offense, which is what makes them so tough to beat.
It is Anthony Cirelli that leads the team in high-danger chances with five and he is tied with Barclay Goodrow for the lead in scoring chances with eight. The Lightning’s depth has been a huge key to this series.
New York Islanders
And that has to add to the frustration for the Islanders. They’ve virtually shut down some of Tampa Bay’s big guns at 5-v-5 and still trail 2-1 in the series. One of their issues is that Matthew Barzal has had a monster series, along with Kyle Palmieri and Leo Komarov, but Brock Nelson has done nothing in this series. Too many players for the Islanders have played well in short stints. There aren’t many guys that have played well in the series overall and the ones that have can’t do it all on their own.
Barry Trotz is a master when it comes to deciphering an opponent, but his biggest opponent in this series is his own team. How do the Islanders capitalize on their offensive chances? They’ve had a lot of them, including that edge in high-danger chances. What can they do to finish better? What can they do to cash in and maybe play from in front, which is how they want to play?
That has been a big part of this series. The Islanders have either been playing catch up or have been playing with tie scores. When they led in Game 1, they nearly pitched a shutout. It took a late power play goal from Brayden Point. They have not led in Game 2 or Game 3.
It is unfair to pin this on Varlamov, as the margin for error is pretty slim with five goals in three games, but Varlamov has to find a way to make more saves on Tampa Bay’s best chances. Where Vasilevskiy has a .903 SV% on high-danger chances at 5-v-5, Varlamov has an .810 SV% on those chances.
Lightning vs. Islanders Free Pick
Can New York play from in front? That is the key in this game. The Islanders need the first goal. They also need a break from the officials because they’ve been on the wrong side of it in this series. Semyon Varlamov also needs to play better. That seems like a long list of things when the biggest issue for Tampa Bay is that the Lightning are winning games without strong performances from some of their top players.
The price looks a little cheap on the Bolts here.
Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning