In what we expected to be a tightly-contested series from the outset, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning are waging an all-out war of attrition for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. The matchup has been tight-checking from the first puck drop, and has produced more venom and vitriol than a CBC.ca comment section, with constant scrums both mid-play and post-whistle.
Game 3 produced more of the same. In a nasty, hard-fought affair, the Lightning emerged with a 2-1 victory, and a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series. Yanni Gourde opened the scoring just past the mid-way point of the first period, but Cal Clutterbuck responded at 17:01 of the second, sending the Nassau Coliseum crowd (and Jimmy Fallon, for some reason) into frenzy. Alas, for the Islanders and their raucous faithful, ‘twas not to be. Brayden Point restored Tampa Bay’s lead with 20 seconds to go in the frame, and the Bolts were able to hang on for the win.
With the Lightning now notching back-to-back wins, it seems apparent that the series will well and truly hinge upon Game 4 on Saturday. As stingy as Barry Trotz’s Islanders are, it seems all but a foregone conclusion that they won’t be able to win three straight against the powerhouse from Florida. In finding a way to win, scoring more goals is a must. Holding the Lightning to two is a rarity at the best of times, so they need to get traffic in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and find a way to get a couple more behind him.
The Islanders can clearly hang with the Bolts, but they need to find an extra gear to push past them.
In the league’s other Stanley Cup semi-final, a predominant theme has been red-hot starts by the underdog Montreal Canadiens, and sleepy starts from the vaunted Vegas Golden Knights. Despite a rout in Game 1, the Golden Knights’ stumbling out of the starting gate finally came back to them in Game 2, with Canadiens fending off a late comeback for a 3-2 win.
Of note, Canadiens head coach Dom Ducharme had “irregularities” in his COVID-19 testing results this morning, and we won’t know if he’ll be on the bench for tonight’s game until shortly beforehand. If Ducharme is not cleared, former Ottawa Senator Alex Burrows is set to take over head coaching duties until Ducharme’s return.
The Canadiens will likely use an increased capacity of 3500 home fans to fuel another quick start, so the Golden Knights will need to find a way to do the same. It’s also apparent that their forward core needs to start contributing, with five of Vegas’ six goals scored in the series coming from defencemen. With talent like Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty up front, that needs to change.
Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer will attempt to ignite some of that offence tonight, putting typical winger Alex Tuch on the top line between Pacioretty and Stone, in the absence of top centre Chandler Stephenson.
Oh, and the goalies are pretty good too, so be prepared for another tight game tonight.