Isles, Bolts Have Issues to Overcome
The second-round series between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning may be more about what the two teams lack rather than what they have. The Islanders are venturing into new territory, having won their first playoff series – over Detroit – since 1993. They lack experience. The Lightning have the experience, but have been bumped, bruised and even sickly along the way. They have a depth problem.
The Islanders had to get some crucial overtime play before they disposed of the Florida Panthers in six games. They got three of their four wins in overtime. It was appropriate that center John Tavares scored two of those OT winners, since Tavares drove the machine with five goals and four assists in the series.
John Tavares. The Franchise.— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) April 25, 2016
Thomas Greiss was solid in goal in the first round. He combined for 88 saves in Games 5 and 6 and enters this series with a 1.79 goals against average for the postseason.
The Lightning endured the series with Detroit with doubts because of key players missing. Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman were out, J.T. Brown and Tyler Johnson were banged up along the way, and a handful of players missed Game 5 with the flu. Nevertheless, they closed out Detroit for the second straight year despite scoring only 12 goals in the series. Nikita Kucherov scored five goals, and redeemed youngster Jonathan Drouin contributed four assists. Goalie Ben Bishop enters with 1.61 GAA in the playoffs, and scored a shutout in the closeout game against the Red Wings. The Bolts penalty kill was solid in the first round, going 24-for-25.
In the regular season, the Islanders won the head-to-head series 2-1, with a 5-2 home win on April 4, and 7-4 loss in Tampa in late March. The other game in was in November. But Lightning have overcome diversity with determination and seem to be a team on a mission. The Islanders upset over Florida has feel of "mission accomplished," and it would be too much to ask of them to advance further. The Lightning at -150 to win the series looks good; I would even take them as high as -180. And I wouldn't put it past them to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year.
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