The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning are set to face off in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The series will begin on Sunday, June 13 at 3:00 pm EST. The Lightning are the higher seed in the series, so they will hold home ice advantage for games one, two, five and seven. Both teams have put on a show in the playoffs so far and hope to continue their work towards winning the Stanley Cup. So, which team has what it takes to make it into the finals?
The New York Islanders have been criticized in the past for being boring to watch for their usually low-scoring games. So far in the playoffs, the Islanders have been far from boring. They lead all teams in goals for in the playoffs, with 43 goals for in 12 games. The Islanders have seen offensive production from across their forward lines and defensive parings, with all but two players recording points. Depth on offense will be essential for the Islanders if they want to get the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning are tied for third in terms of goals for in the playoffs so far, with 38 goals in 11 games. They have also seen production from across their lineup, but have more players without points (four). Tampa Bay is more likely to rely on star players, like Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
The Lightning do have an advantage over the Islanders when it comes to the powerplay. So far in the playoffs Tampa Bay has a 41.7% success rate on the powerplay (15 goals on 36 opportunities). The Islanders do not generally take many penalties, but they have had a low penalty-kill percentage (61.5%) in the playoffs. New York will need to avoid taking penalties in order to avoid the dangerous Lightning powerplay.
Defense has been a strong point for the Islanders in the 2021 playoffs, at least at even strength. In five-on-five play, New York has allowed 23 goals in 12 games, for an average of 1.92 goals per game. The nine powerplay goals and one shorthanded goal allowed by the Islanders draw the total goals against up to 33 goals against, for an average of 2.75 goals against per game. The Islanders do well in forcing turnovers and taking advantage of their opponents mistakes. Takeaways, neutral zone control and defensive pressure allow New York to prevent chances for their opponents. The defensive skill of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock have also been crucial for the Islanders, with each defenseman playing over 20 minutes every game.
For the Lightning defense is less of a focus, but not a weak spot. Tampa Bay has allowed 26 goals in their 11 playoff games for an average of 2.36 goals against per game. Aside from goaltending skill, the Lightning have been able to limit the opportunities of their opponents through smart and physical defensive play. Victor Hedman, a 2021 Norris Trophy Finalist, lends his considerable size and skill to the Tampa cause. Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are also important members of the Lightning’s defensive core.
The two different styles of defensive play employed by the Islanders and Lightning should create an interesting on ice atmosphere. Being strong on defense, both five-on-five and shorthanded, will be essential in shutting down the strong offense that each team brings to the ice. When the teams have faced each other in the past, defense and puck control have been crucial to limiting goals and winning games.
The Islanders’ Semyon Varlomov and the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy have both performed well in the playoffs. After taking the starting role from Ilya Sorokin in game two against Boston, Varlomov has put up a 0.935% save percentage and a 2.4 goals against average. He has consistently been faced with 40 shots against, but has been up to the challenge. Varlomov’s strength in net has kept the Islanders in the playoffs and will be crucial against the Tampa Bay offense.
If Varlomov does need a break, the Islanders have a strong backup option in Ilya Sorokin. While he lost his starting role in the second round, Sorokin played well in the Islanders first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In four games against the Penguins, he recorded a 0.944% save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average. He was a big part of New York’s first round success, so if they need to give Varlomov a break, Sorokin is capable of taking over.
Tampa Bay has also seen goaltending success. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is a Vezina Trophy finalist for the fourth straight season, has played all 11 of the Lightning’s 2021 playoff games. He has posted a 0.934% save percentage, a 2.24 goals against average and two shutouts. He is, perhaps, the most difficult piece of the Tampa Bay puzzle to solve and often causes frustration in his opponents. Vasilevskiy has made many an impressive save so far in the playoffs and will continue to do so against the Islanders.