NHL Round Two Playoffs Preview: Tampa Bay vs. New York

Screenshot_1The Tampa Bay Lightning will go into Game 4 in New York with an advantage that they didn’t think they would have without their Captain, Steven Stamkos.

It’s probably not the marquee matchup that everyone is watching in the Round 2 of the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoffs, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, or even the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars in the West. But whoever has ignored what’s been going on between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning in this intense second-round series is really missing out.

The main reason that fans are excited is that this series is shaping up to be the most entertaining second-round series of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Throughout the first three games of this series, the hitting and action has been nonstop. Their play is high-energy dosed with a potent shot of hatred. Their relentlessness has increased by each game, and it’s hard to believe but it’s only going to get better.

Many think this series will take all seven games to decide the winner. And who will win? Well that is probably going to be is a toss-up. From the Islanders’ standpoint, losing 5-4 in overtime in Game 3 after they played what fans and critics called their team’s ‘best game’ of the season was demoralizing, but their coach Jack Capuano thinks his team will build off that dynamic performance. They’ll look to carry that energy over into Game 4 on Friday at the Barclays Center.

Before Game 3, the coach wanted his players to have ingrained in their skulls the importance of getting a lot of traffic and shots on the Lightning’s net and challenging goalie Ben Bishop. It proved to be a good game plan in Game 1 when they won. Their defensemen were jumping up into the play more often and chipping in offensively. New York lost its one-goal lead late in the game before winning in OT, but what was noticeable that both teams had increased the physical aspect of the game in the second round and upped the stakes.

It’s a physical fast-paced series with plenty of hits like the one Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn made on New York’s Nikolay Kulemin during the third period of Game 3 which was crushing: “That was Islander hockey,” Capuano said. “We played to our identity [in Game 3], and that’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success in this series.”

The Lightning feel pretty good about their play because they took on the Islanders at their best and still walked away with two victories.

“If you watched [Game 3], you would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining hockey game,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper. “It had everything. It had goals. It had saves. It had hits. It had overtime. It had all the drama. Goalie pulled. Goal scored. And that’s why we all stand around here and love this game because it’s a ton of fun to be a part of this. This series has so much more, so long to go and everyone watching this series is looking forward to Game 4.”

The best thing about this series is the goaltending. This series features two of the top goaltenders statistically in the playoffs. And because of that, many fans had expected to see low-scoring games, but so far it hasn’t been. A total of 19 goals have been scored in the first three games, and despite all the pucks going in, Bishop and New York’s Thomas Greiss have both been standing on their heads. They’ve made timely saves on both sides. If you look at Game 3 for example the Islanders got off 17 shots, and many were high quality chances, but Bishop allowed just one goal and the Lightning got encouraged by that performance, Bishop ended with 35 saves.

“You need a guy to be there for you,” Cooper said. “A goalie doesn’t have to win you every game, he just can’t lose you a game. Every game’s not going to be 1-0, 2-0. Sometimes it’s going to be 5-4. You just have to make sure you’re the one who gave up four, and that’s what he did. He found a way to win that hockey game for us. There are those guys who can win, and Ben’s kind of finding a little niche for himself to win hockey games.”

For the Islanders, their fans have been chanting, “Jesus Greiss” since their New York’s netminder has been solid too. He made 36 saves in Game 3 alone. After the overtime loss in that game a lot of Islander fans took to social media to consider the possibility of whether Capuano will make a goalie change for Jaroslav Halak, who had been out with a groin injury since March 8. Halak has since then recovered and has practiced with his team and says he’s ready to play, if called to bat. But as long as Greiss continues to play the way he has, there’s no way Capuano should make a goalie change.

Both teams combine for a total of 78 hits in a game, so it’s obvious it’s an all-out battle. That was the case in Game 3, so for Game 4 the same can be expected with the hits ever increasing. Look for the Islanders to hit the most to get back into it. Both teams are defense-first mentality, and love to play physical, and all the fast-paced games in this series mean Game 4 will be blazing fast. And really fun to watch. Pucks will fly guaranteed, players will block shots with reckless abandon, and the bodychecks will be jaw-dropping. Bet on that!

“Both teams want to play a fast, physical brand of hockey and they want the pace as high as it can be,” said Capuano, who added, “And, when you get teams that play with the pace they play with, things are going to happen.”

Sparks will fly!

Our Pick: Isles over Bolts, 4-3