Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The Islanders were able to overcome the worst stretch of play during their playoff run to win a crucial Game 6 at home and force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay on Friday. After bringing a 1-1 series to home ice, the Isles dropped Game 3 and won Game 4 as they did in each of their previous two series. The back-and-forth series went to Tampa for a Game 5 on Monday night. Previously, the Isles used Game 5 on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins to push their opponents to the brink of elimination and host a crucial game on home ice. This wasn’t the case with New York’s trip to Tampa for Game 5.
After nearly allowing the Lightning to come back from a three-goal deficit late in Game 4, the Isles escaped with a 3-2 win after Ryan Pulock quite literally saved the game. Fresh off their two unanswered goals late in the previous contest, the Lightning got off to a strong start in Game 5, with captain Steven Stamkos opening the scoring under a minute into the action to get the home crowd going. Tampa Bay didn’t let up, adding two more goals in the first period to chase Semyon Varlamov from the game with his team trailing 3-0 early. Ilya Sorokin didn’t fare much better, as the Isles trailed the game 6-0 after two periods and ultimately faced the worst playoff defeat in playoff history with an 8-0 final.
The Isles weren’t able to get much going offensively, as they were outshot by the Bolts 40-21, and saw the Lightning’s second line significantly break out for the first time in the series. Stamkos’ line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli combined for four goals and seven points, complementing the elite production of Tampa’s top line with Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and playoff nightmare Brayden Point. Point has scored in each of the first six games of this series, pushing his streak of consecutive playoff games with a goal to nine, one off the NHL record. Part of the Isles’ game plan for Game 7 has to be taking the puck off the stick of the Lightning’s top center.
While letting up eight goals doesn’t put any team in a position to win, just as concerning was the lack of offensive success New York had in Game 5, and these issues were seen late in the game prior and even early in the next game. The Lightning were able to hold consistent offensive pressure on the Isles, while New York was only able to put together one chance at the most before their opponents were driving offense the other way. After surrendering 12 consecutive goals, the Isles were finally able to generate offense late in Wednesday’s potential elimination game. Game 6 saw Mathew Barzal return to form, dominating play for stretches and assisting on both goals scored in regulation.
The Islanders who produced in Game 6 were among those who had the longest droughts, including Jordan Eberle, who got the Islanders on the board, and Anthony Beauvillier, who won the game in overtime. Considering there couldn’t have been a much better time for the forwards to find the back of the net, continuing to find offense will be a key to success heading into Game 7. Having multiple lines rendered essentially useless in Game 7 could cause a repeat of the disaster that was Game 5 in Tampa Bay.
Shutting Down Lightning Stars
With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, the Islanders must focus their game plan around shutting down the top players on Tampa Bay’s roster. The only issue with this plan is that there are stars up and down the Lightning depth chart. The Bolts were relying on production from their top line and power play to gain leads, but the recent success of their second line makes them more of a threat in a winner-take-all contest.
Staying out of the box should help in minimizing the pressure Tampa can put on the Islanders defensively. New York is generally very well structured in their own zone, but the threat of the Lightning power play looms too large even for them. The Lightning earned eight power plays in just the last two games, and this trend needs to change if the Isles want to have a chance in Game 7. Officiating inconsistency aside, discipline needs to be at the forefront for New York to shut down the top two lines of Tampa Bay at even strength and win puck battles the way they were able to earlier in the series.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Mathew Barzal: 1 goal, 2 assists
- Adam Pelech: 3 assists
- Cal Clutterbuck: 1 goal, 2 assists
The Week Ahead
- 6/25: Game 7 at Tampa Bay