The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning appear to have the New York Islanders exactly where they want 'em. The Floridians aim to take a 3 to 1 lead in the best-of-seven semi-finals tonight in Uniondale, Long Island.
Game 4 will face off at 5 PM EST.
Lightning anchor in the net Andrei Vasilevskiy has consistently been the best goaltender in the NHL. He's beating the Islanders, who are known for defense, at their own game.
Vasilevskiy has been a Vezina Trophy finalist in each of the last four seasons. He won the award in 2019, and he is likely to win again this season. Vasilevskiy led all goaltenders with 31 wins during the 2021 regular season, and he posted career- bests – a .925 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA.
The Lightning goalie has been even better during this postseason. Through 14 playoff games, he has a .935 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA. This is a big reason why Tampa Bay has won the last two games after playing a horrible Game 1. We witnesses a tough game where goals were hard to come by. Neither team was able to put up 30 shots on goal. This isn't the style of game the Lightning usually want to play with all of their explosive forwards, but they are showing the ability to make adjustments given the opponent and take what opportunities exist.
As for offense, the Lightning scoring machine has been led by Brayden Point. While Nikita Kucherov currently leads Tampa Bay with 23 points in the post-season, Point has been even more valuable by scoring 11 goals. He's now scored a goal in six straight games, including the game winner on Thursday.
Another plus for the Lightning: Tampa Bay has converted on 38.6 percent of all power play opportunities this postseason. Nearly 40 percent of the goals the Lightning have scored in the playoffs have come during power plays. The Islanders have to be careful and not give their opponent easier chances at putting the puck on the net.
While the Isles have advanced to this point with solid defense, they need to find a way to win the possession battle and keep the puck in the opponent's zone. New York desperately needs Kyle Palmieri to step up in this series. Palmieri scored three goals in the Penguins series and four more goals against Bruins series, but since then he's gone into hibernation. Palmieri has yet to record either a goal or even an assist in three games versus the Lightning. The Islanders simply doesn’t have enough scoring options, so they need him to perform or someone else to step up in a big way.
We'll fade that prospect happening and go with the better team.
Prediction: After Thursday night's victory, the Lightning are in control of this series. They'd like nothing more than to run the table and win the next two games, then enjoy a few days often while the Montreal-Las Vegas series goes 6 or perhaps 7 games.
Meanwhile, while Game 4 isn’t officially a "must-win" for the Islanders, falling behind 3-1 with two of the last three games in Tampa Bay is not a prospect that inspires confidence. So, let's just say it – tonight is a must win for New York to have any realistic chance of pulling off an upset and advancing.
At the moment, it’s hard to get against the Lightning, as they clearly have the better forwards and a goaltender playing championship-level hockey. Priced at just -135 to win on the moneyline, we think Tampa Bay has some value at this number.
Final Score Forecast: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1