Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders Eastern Conference Final Preview

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders
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With the first two rounds of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs finished, the Conference Finals will begin immediately. The Tampa Bay Lightning were able to overtake the Presidents Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in just five games. On the opposite side sit the New York Islanders who play a much more defensive style than the Lightning. It should be yet another intriguing playoff series right before the Stanley Cup Final. In this article, the Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders matchup will be broken down. Let’s look at what the Islanders and Lightning can do to ensure they make it to the final two teams.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders

The Forward Matchup

These Islanders aren’t especially known for their forward group. They have players such as Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal that can stand out for the group, but it pales in comparison to the team’s areas of strength. The Islanders play a more traditional style of hockey. They don’t have lots of extremely skilled players, but the Isles forwards can slow down the play and help suffocate the other team. The forward group is constructed to try to play a responsible game rather than a high scoring offence.

The Lightning are known for their incredibly deep and skilled forward group. Nearly a polar opposite of the Islanders, the Lightning are built to score. The elite players like Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov provide heavily on offence, but depth pieces like Ondrej Palat have been able to contribute as of late. This does not mean the Lightning forward group is irresponsible in the defensive zone, however. While a player like Point isn’t especially good on defence, they have players like Palat, Cedric PaquetteAnthony Cirelli, and Mitchell Stephens who all provide above replacement value defensively.

The Defence Matchup

The Islanders have a fantastic top three defencemen in Devon ToewsAdam Pelech and especially Ryan Pulock. Pelech provides excellent value defensively at both 5v5 and shorthanded. Similarly, Toews is strong defensively at 5v5, but lacks the PK results Pelech has, but Toews also has seen more success on offence. Toews has struggled so far in the playoffs, but has shown in the regular season that he can provide value to the Islanders. Finally, Pulock has excelled with both offence and defence, exceeding both players previously mentioned. Pulock is able to contribute with the offence while maintaining strong defensive composure for the Islanders and is the shining star of the blueline.

On the opposite spectrum, though, the Islanders have quite a few defencemen that can struggle quite a bit. Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy have been below average relative to their teammates this post-season. While it’s a varied group for the Islanders, overall it is a strong bunch that has been able to play well this playoff run.

The Lightning were one of the best teams defensively in the regular season at 5v5. They have been able to keep their opponents to relatively few goals through their first 10 games. With Victor Hedman quarterbacking the defence unit, the Lightning also have Ryan McDonagh that can still log heavy minutes. Kevin Shattenkirk was a bit of a surprise for Tampa on the backend as well. He was able to piece together an extremely respectable 2019-20 season. All these pieces and more are what contribute to the Lightning’s defensive dominance. With Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev the Lightning’s defence are able to contribute offensively, similar to how the forwards help a lot on defence. It is one of the main things that make Tampa such a fantastic team.

The Goaltending Matchup

Looking at the two starters of Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevskiy the Islanders have the clear cut strength here. Varlamov was able to put together a stronger regular season, and in the playoffs, Vasilevkiy has been incredibly inconsistent. And with New York having such a strong backup option in Thomas Greiss, even if things begin to go sideways for Varlamov the Isles are still in a strong position.

On a night to night basis in against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins, the Lightning didn’t know which Vasilevskiy they would get. This is an issue when going into the Eastern Conference Finals. Having a goaltender you can rely on is key for any team making a deep playoff run. Vasilevskiy will need to start stringing together more consistent performances for the Lightning to have a shot. He was able to post fantastic games in Game 4 and Game 5 against the Bruins to close out the series, but to compete with Varlamov at the other end, he’ll need to do that more often.

Going into the third round, the Lightning should have the edge in the series. However, if Vasilevkiy can’t put together strong performances at the right times, the rest of the roster matchups won’t matter. No matter how strong a single team is, they need a goalie to bail them out from time to time. Thankfully, for the Islanders, they have a player in net that can do that on any given night and that could be their win condition.

That concludes the Eastern Conference Final preview for the Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders.

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