There are some very real similarities between this New York Islanders team and the 2017 edition of the Ottawa Senators. Besides the most obvious link, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, both out-performed their regular season underlying metrics to get into the play-offs and then got hot at the right moment. Both teams rely on a defense-first system designed to keep opponent attempts to the outside, while hoping that their skilled players would find just enough offense to carry the team over the finish line. Both faced down well-established powerhouses in their attempt to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. As we all know, 2017 didn’t end so well for the Sens.
If I had one piece of advice for any Isles fan who has stumbled onto this Sens blog, it would be to savour every goal and every moment of this extended play-off run. Lots of analysts and fans of other teams will say that the Isles “don’t deserve to be there”. In a world where nothing but xGF% and CF% counted, that would be true: the Isles were not nearly a top 4 team during the regular season. But as a fan: who cares?!
A regret I have as a Sens fan is that I came to the party a bit too late during that 2017 run. That Sens team was not “good”, the subsequent seasons bore that out pretty clearly, but I also spent too much of the play-off run worrying about how it would end badly, what would be of the team in years to come. It was only after Pageau’s four goal game against the Rangers that I really allowed myself to relax. It was a tremendous run, and considering where the Sens are now as a team, I kind of regret not just giving into it more at the time. So, I hope for Isles fans that they allow themselves to just be enjoy what this is: the first Conference Finals appearance in nearly 30 years, and an exciting team. It’s a hell of a ride.
Tampa Bay Lightning 8, New York Islanders 2, TBL Leads Series 1-0
Woo, so after all that sentimental stuff up top it’s time to deal with the cold, hard facts of this series: the Lightning put a real whooping on the Islanders in game one last night. Believe it or not, there was a point in time in this game when it felt like New York might have some hope. Tampa got on the board early, Brayden Point netted his first of the night just 1:14 in, but Jordan Eberle broke his long drought barely more than three minutes later to square things up and it seemed New York might have weathered the storm. Friends, let me tell you that was not the case.
Over the next forty or so minutes, the Bolts would tally five consecutive goals to guarantee this one was a laugher before the mid-point of the third. All of the tactics that the Isles had previously employed to keep shots to the outside seemed to have little effect on the Lightning. Tampa used their speed and clinical passing to open up the types of Grade A opportunities that the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals just couldn’t against the New York defense. A telling stat: Tampa had only one (!) missed shot attempt at 5v5 the entire game. The Isles blocked shots, of course, but Tampa also got a lot more of the high quality chances they wanted. Combined with the fact that they have the deepest, most skilled forward group in the league and a lot of those shots from the slot that were previously being blocked by the Isles, or just plain missing the net, were now finding the corners.
It didn’t hurt that the Lightning’s elite scorers were elite: Nikita Kucherov and Point each notched five points on the night. The Isles are fairly deep and have some talent at the top, Mathew Barzal in particular, but they just don’t have the same elite scoring that the Lightning do. All in all, it was a real drubbing. If you’re an Isles fan, maybe don’t ever think about this one again and hope New York’s more ready for the fight on Wednesday.