The Tampa Bay Lightning still have no idea who they are facing in the Eastern Conference Finals – but they will soon enough. As the team prepares to fly for Edmonton, their opponent will join them for game one on Monday.
The New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers will face off for game seven tonight as the Toronto bubble prepares to close. After jumping out to a 3-1 lead, the Isles a have seen the Flyers scratch and claw their way back with consecutive overtime victories to make it a best of one.
Mat Barzal has been an absolute stud for the Islanders this postseason, scoring thirteen points (five goals, eight assists) but his teammate Josh Bailey has been every bit as impressive. Bailey has fifteen points (two goals, thirteen assists) and holds a +7 on the ice. He’s been a key player for the Islanders in setting up his teammates and creating high danger chances for the Islanders offense.
The big story for New York, however, is Semyon Varlamov. In fourteen bubble games, Varlamov has a 2.00 GAA and a save percentage of .921 as well as two shutouts.
On the flip side, the Flyers have already met with the Lightning in bubble play, beating Tampa Bay 4-1 to secure the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. They then took on a very tough, very determined Montreal Canadiens team – who had no business being in the playoffs to begin with, but made the most of their trip by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins – ultimately winning the series 4-2.
The Flyers, in do-or-die mode, broke the streak the Islanders had of not losing a game in this year’s playoffs in which they held the lead at any point by overcoming an early 1-0 deficit in game five. Game six was more of the same. After taking a 2-0 lead, the Isles scored three unanswered to take a one goal lead. The Flyers tied it only to see that tie broken by – you guessed it – Mat Brazal less than six minutes later. Scott Laughton tied the game midway through the third and it took double overtime before Ivan Provorov buried the game winning, series tying goal.
Ultimately, the Lightning should be able to win a seven game series against either of these teams but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Personally, I think the Bolts match up better against Philadelphia than they do New York. I see New York as a Columbus-level defensive team that creates a lot of problems for a team like Tampa Bay as far as clogging the offensive zone and shutting their opponent down. The Isles like to keep things in that three goal or less range. That’s where they thrive and where they will beat you. Oh, and let us not forget the nightmares we’re all still suffering from following the last playoff series the Bolts had against a Barry Trotz led team.
As for the Flyers, they present their own problems but much like the Bruins series, the Lightning have a deeper team with more skill that should be able to outlast Philly in a series like this. That said, momentum is a real thing and should the Flyers come back from a 3-1 deficit to win this series, they may be a buzz-saw hotter than any team left in the postseason.
We’ll know tonight who the Lightning will face in Edmonton for the chance to play for the Stanley Cup – but who do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below or vote in our Twitter poll! We’ll find out exactly who it will be tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST.