The New York Islanders are a pain in the ‘you know what’ to play against. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s no doubt that — on paper — the defending champions have the stronger roster with more top-end talent. Yet, it’ll be Tampa trying to even the series at 1-1 on Tuesday night.
The Isles will try to replicate their Game 1 masterpiece Tuesday night at Amalie Arena. But I suspect talent will prevail in Game 2. Here’s my top pick for Game 2.
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Tampa Bay Lightning (-112 in regulation) vs. New York Islanders
Sunday’s Game 1 victory was a classic Islanders performance under Barry Trotz. New York played its stifling defensive style, got excellent goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, and converted on just enough opportunities to win. The analytics suggest this wasn’t a fluke either. New York held a 2.76-1.78 advantage in terms of expected goals at 5-on-5.
The Islanders also did a great job of staying out of the penalty box, committing just two penalties all night. Of course, Tampa’s lone goal came on the man advantage late in the third period.
Islanders star Mathew Barzal also remained red hot to start the conference finals, scoring his fourth goal in five postseason games in the second period of Game 1. In a series that features studs like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman, New York’s biggest star must continue to shine the brightest if the Islanders are to win this series.
My question entering Game 2 is this: is everything New York pulled off in Game 1 sustainable over the long haul of a playoff series? The Islanders played as close to a perfect game as possible but still had to hang on for dear life to win. New York has the coaching and character to get the job done in close games. In fact, some might say they live for those intense situations, given how they seemingly always find a way in crunch time.
But at the end of the day, the Lightning have too much talent and the better goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was really good in Game 1. There’s a reason the Lightning are currently listed at -200 despite losing Game 1. The oddsmakers still recognize they’re the superior team.
So, how do we approach Game 2? I’m not interested in laying two bucks to win one, so I’m turning my attention to the regulation-time line, which offers a much more reasonable price. The Lightning are listed at -112 to win in regulation at DraftKings.
Keep in mind that if the game goes to overtime, we lose regardless of the outcome. However, I’m confident Tampa Bay will come out firing and settle this one without needing extra time.
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