The Islanders and Lightning will play Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Semifinals at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday.
Last year, Tampa Bay eliminated New York in the Eastern Conference Final in six games before defeating the Dallas Stars to win the Stanley Cup.
New York has 17 players expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 who played in the series against the Lightning last season. Tampa Bay has 16.
Teams that win Game 1 are 497-226 (68.7 percent) winning a best-of-7 series, and for that to happen here’s our…
Five Keys To An Islanders Game 1 Victory
#5 Don’t Commit Penalties
Special teams can be the difference in a game, but especially when facing the Tampa Bay Lightning’s power-play.
The Lightning has one of the best man-advantage units in the league. So if the Isles have any chance at stealing game #1 they must stay out of the penalty box.
While the Islander’s penalty killers were good during the regular season (83.7%). During the first 2 rounds, they’ve been woeful (61.5%).
This is especially scary considering the Isles were picked apart by Boston for seven power-play goals, and the Lightning’s power-play is far more lethal than the Bruins.
Tampa Bay has scored on 15 of their 36 man-advantage opportunities this postseason, which amounts to a league-leading 41.7 percentage.
Tampa Bay is also averaging 3.27 power-plays per game, which is also the best among the NHL’s final four.
The good news is how Barry Trotz’s penalty killers frustrated the hell out of the Lightning’s power-play last year.
Tampa Bay became so disjointed as the series went on, the lightning power-play went 0 for 5 in Game #6. And the Isles didn’t even have Pelech.
When Tampa Bay’s power-play isn’t clicking they start doing exactly what the Isles are sometimes guilty of…over-passing looking for that one perfect shot.
#4 Pass the Puck Out Of Harm’s Way
When the Islanders are under pressure in the defensive zone, they normally try clearing the puck by using the boards.
But during last year’s playoffs, especially during the first few games, every time the Isles would attempt to clear the puck by shooting it around the boards.
Tampa Bay’s defensemen would pinch in and steal the puck.
Hopefully, the Isles will recall what they were doing in the later games when they used the wide-open middle of the ice and started passing their way out of their own zone.
#3 Hit Everyone Not Wearing An Islanders Jersey
New York’s hard-hitting play has been incredibly effective in this year’s playoffs.
During their first-round match-up with Pittsburg, after two periods of getting slobberknockered by crushing body checks.
In nearly every game the Penguins were toast by the 3rd period.
In the second round, unlike the Penguins, the Bruins didn’t fold up like a cheap tent by the 3rd period.
However, by game 6, Boston had been so pounded over the first 5 games, other than their first line, many of the Bruins were more worried about getting hit and less about the puck.
There’s little reason to believe that the Lightning will be affected the same way.
But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t wear down like the Bruins did the deeper the series goes.
But in order for that to happen, the Isles must start hitting with the first puck drop.
If they don’t have at least 60 hits a game, then they’re not punishing the Lightning enough.
#3a Knock Hedman Into 2022
Continuing this key to the game. The Isles must pound Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay’s No. 1 defenseman, at every opportunity.
The Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman has been playing through a lower-body injury that will require surgery in the offseason.
Of course, no one want’s to see another Brandon Carlo situation happen.
But the truth is after Carlo went down, the Bruins D never recovered.
So if the Isles can chip-n-chase and legally pound Hedman every other night for the next week and a half.
The Lightning may be forced to either play their most important defensemen less or sit him altogether.
#2 Plant a Seed of Doubt in Vasilevsiy
Vasilevsiy isn’t a Vezina trophy finalist for nothing. He’s been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season and for most of this year’s playoffs, he been outstanding.
But if they can score an early goal, unlike Varly, Vasilevsiy can become rattled the rest of the game.
Vasilevsiy wasn’t the same goalie when the Panthers scored at 4:31 of the 1st period during their 6-5 win in game #3 of their first-round matchup.
Unlike the Isles, if Varly has a bad night, Trotz can call on an already tested winner in Sorokin to replace him.
Tampa Bay will win or go home with Vasilevsiy because they have no other option.
#1 (Most Important) Survive the First 10-minutes
Without a doubt, Tampa Bay will come out flying for the first 10-minutes and as any Islanders fan can tell you, the Islanders have been notoriously slow starters.
So the Isles sluggish start and Varly giving up an easy goal within the first three shots simply can’t happen in game #1.
Against teams such as Pittsburg and Boston with only one, or at best two lines, being a scoring threat. It was far easier for the Islanders to dig themselves out of an early hole.
So getting down early against the Lightning in Game #1 could sound the death knell for the Isles.