For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the path to the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals just hit an unforeseen roadblock. Hit the brakes! Hopes of an easy route to a second straight NHL championship have taken an unexpected detour.
Rerouting the Lightning's journey into the finals are the New York Islanders, who put the reigning champs on lockdown in Game 1. The Islanders smoothered the Lightning with solid defense and won 2-1 in a game totally suited to their strengths.
The Islanders are known for frustrating their opponents, which is exactly what happened in the opener. Now, it's up to Tampa Bay to make necessary adjustments and bounce back big time in Game 2, which suddenly becomes a near-critical win for the series favourites.
Tampa Bay was the odds-on favourite to win the Stanley Cup prior to Sunday afternoon's loss. They were listed at +150 in the four-team race (along with the Islanders, Golden Knights, and Canadiens).
The Lightning were expected to handle the NY Islanders with relative ease in this best-of-seven semi-finals. After all, many had expected the Boston Bruins to come out atop the East Division and be in this spot. However, the Islanders had other plans. Now, they're just three wins away from from their first finals in 37 years.
Heading into tonight's Game 2, oddsmakers and the betting public still aren't convinced the Islanders are for real yet. Tampa Bay is laying -205 to win (in full-time). That comes back at +170 on the Isles.
However, at least one key adjustment has been made based on the Game 1 results. Seeing the Islanders achieve success defensively, the game total is now 5. Most Lightning games this season have been totalled at 5.5 to 6. So, there's some belief these games are going to be lower scoring, which is typical in playoff hockey.
Here's the latest odds from SPREADS.CA:
Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov was fabulous in Game 1. He's had the Lightning's number for a while now. Varlamov posted a save percentage of .958 in his previous three starts against the high-powered Lightning, stopping 112 of the 116 shots in those games. Just, wow!
The question is, will this empasse in front of the net continue? Varlamov seems overdue for a rough outing against Tampa Bay, which has shown the ability to bounce back in games after being shut down. After their three previous playoff losses, the Lightning bounced back to win – 6-4, 6-2, and 4-0. So, losses tend to bring more offensive success in the following game.
Indeed, Tampa Bay’s offense needs to pick itself up off the ice after a disappointing performance in which they scored just one late, meaningless goal in the first game. Their leading scorers – Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos –combined to take just four shots. That must improve. The Lightning converted on one of their two power play chances to remain the top unit in that category in the postseason, but they didn’t have any success at even strength. That has to change – and fast.
Meanwhile, the Islanders’ best offensive threat, Mathew Barzal continues to play well when it counts the most. Last week, he had a breakthrough series against Boston. Barzal scored a goal in three straight games – plus he had a goal and an assist in Game 4 and Game 5 in that series. Barzal was also excellent in Game 1 against Tampa Bay. He scored the first goal of the game midway though the second period to give the underdog Isles a lead they would not relinquish.
For Tampa Bay, Andrei Vasilevskiy played a solid game, stopping 29 of the 31 shots. Normally, that would be enough for the Lightning to win most games given their scoring numbers in both the regular season and playoffs. However, the defensive-minded Islanders aren't going make things easy.
Prediction: The Isles got exactly what they needed, winnning one of the first two road games in this series. Now, there could be a slight letdown in intensity. Unless Varlamov continues to marvel in the net (certainly possible), tonight should be a rebound win for Tampa Bay. The Lightning are deep, experienced, and understand the stakes. Heading to New York down 0-2 is not a prospect the Lightning will accept. They'll find a way to get a few pucks in the net and draw the series back to even.
Final Score Forecast: Tampa Bay 3, NY Islanders 1