The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will play game two of their best-of-seven series tonight at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Following the 8-2 blowout in game one, the Islanders will be looking to answer a lot of questions with their performance tonight.
I dove into how I felt that game one wasn’t indicative of how this series was going to play out, but a rock solid performance tonight by the Lightning may get me to change my tune. The Islanders will have to overcome a series deficit for the first time in the postseason and they will come out in an effort to play the best game they’ve had all season long.
The Lightning can win in a multitude of ways – speed, high scoring, defensive-minded – and it will be up to the Islanders to dictate the pace of play and force Tampa Bay to play New York’s way rather than their own. That, essentially, is how the Islanders can climb back into the series and look to swing momentum.
But how can they do that?
Well, it starts in the net. As of writing, we still don’t know if the starting goalie will be Thomas Greiss or Semyon Varlamov for game two. It seems as though Greiss will be the guy given his past performance (excluding game one of this series) against the Lightning as well as the nod he was given to play game seven against the Flyers. I know I hang on that a little, but in a win-or-go-home situation, a coach is going to play the goalie he trusts to win the game.
Then they need to have the puck break their way, something that didn’t happen in game one. There were opportunities there for the Isles’ offense but Andrei Vasilevskiy was, well, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The key turning point, in my opinion, was the breakaway opportunity Brock Nelson had during a penalty kill in the first period. A short-handed goal to take a 2-1 lead after going down 1-0 less than 90 seconds into the game could have not only energized an Islanders team that stole all the momentum from Tampa Bay, but very well could have demoralized the Lightning.
Instead, it was a Victor Hedman goal at the end of the power play that put the Lightning up 2-1 and the rest -as they say – is history.
Between Nelson, Josh Bailey, and Mathew Barzal, the Islanders need to find a way to get their top guys going if they are going to win in game two. The Isles are a deeper team than people like to give them credit for – but the Lightning are that much deeper.
For the Lightning, it’s about continuing to move the offense through the emerging Conn Smythe candidates. Victor Hedman and Brayden Point have put on two of the most sensational postseason performances we’ve seen in recent history. A big reason for that in game one of the series was Hedman’s return to the top power play unit.
Of the three goals scored on the power play, it was Hedman with the top unit over Mikhail Sergachev. Granted, this didn’t appear to be by design so much as circumstance. Either way, it was a Heddy goal and an assist to Point that got the Lightning two goals. The power play has struggled mightily until Jon Cooper started having Nikita Kucherov run it from the half wall rather than Sergechev from the point. Having Hedman run it from the point gives the power play a familiar look that works in the regular season but we hadn’t seen it much in the playoffs.
Defenses have collapsed on Kuch due to the absence of Steven Stamkos. Having Sergechev run point allows the defense to continue to do just that. Nothing against Sergechev, but defenses don’t respect his shot or his ability to manufacture opportunities from the point the way they are forced to with Hedman. Having Hedman out on that unit opens up shooting lanes for Kucherov and Point thanks to Hedman’s ability to draw defenders towards him when he has the puck.
I don’t think this will be a “whoever scores first wins” situation but I do expect it to be low scoring. I mean, it’s too easy to say that it’ll be lower scoring than game one, but this has a 2-1 finish written all over it. If the Lightning withstand the early rush by the Isles – and they stay out of the stinkin’ penalty box – Tampa Bay could take a commanding two game lead and inch the clock closer t midnight on the Islanders’ Cinderella run.