On Monday night, the Dallas Stars won an overtime thriller to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. Now their opponent will either be the Tampa Bay Lightning, who need one more win to clinch the series, or the New York Islanders, who will need to run the table to overcome their 3-1 series deficit.
Here is a preview for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and Islanders. Tampa Bay is a big favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook, listed at -180 on the money line.
This series started with an offensive explosion, as the Lightning poured on eight goals to win Game 1 by a score of 8-2. Center Brayden Point and left-wing Yanni Gourde each scored twice, with Point also chipping in three assists. Right-wing Nikita Kucherov also scored and added four helpers to tie Point for the team-lead in points. Tampa Bay’s dominant effort also included going 3-for-6 on the power play and out-shooting the Islanders by 10.
Game 2 was much more evenly matched, but Kucherov’s goal with nine seconds left in regulation served as the game-winner as Tampa Bay won 2-1. New York got on the board early with a goal from left-wing Matt Martin, but it was answered late in the first period by defenseman Victor Hedman to tie the game at one.
It would remain 1-1 until Kucherov’s goal, with Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and New York’s Semyon Varlamov, each making critical saves throughout the game. This time the Islanders won the shot battle by seven while also leading in hits and faceoff wins.
Hoping to avoid going down 3-0, the Islanders bounced back in Game 3 with a 5-3 win. New York went into the third period of the game up 3-1, as right-wing Cal Clutterbuck, defenseman Adam Pelech, and left-wing Anthony Beauvillier all scored their first goals of the series.
The Lightning stormed back in the third to tie the game thanks to left-wing Ondrej Palat and center Tyler Johnson. However, center Brock Nelson broke the tie to put New York back up on top with about three-and-a-half minutes left, with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau adding some insurance with an empty-netter.
In Game 4, the Lightning scored four goals, including two that came 12 seconds apart that helped them win 4-1. Nelson scored first, his goal coming 9:33 into the second period. But New York’s lead didn’t last long, as center Blake Coleman scored 15 seconds later to tie the game.
The tie was even shorter, with Palat scoring 12 seconds after Coleman to put Tampa Bay up for good. Point and left-wing Patrick Maroon padded the Lightning lead in the third, as they once again won the shot battle 36-to-27.
Keys to Victory
New York will win if they keep it low-scoring. All season long, the Islanders have had a simple game-plan; be aggressive on the forecheck, be responsible and sound on defense, and don’t discount the details.
So far this series, they’ve struggled to accomplish that, with Tampa Bay averaging over three expected goals per game during five-on-five play. Since New York doesn’t have the pure offensive talent that the Lightning has to simply outscore them, the focus needs to be on limiting high-danger scoring chances, crowding the middle of the zone, and preventing odd-man rushes.
Tampa Bay will win if they continue to get production from their stars. So far, despite New York’s best efforts, the Lightning’s best players have come through for them all series. Kucherov, last year’s Hart Trophy winner, has nine points in four games this series, seven of which have come via assist.
Point has seven points despite missing Game 3 and part of Game 2 with an injury, while Hedman and Palat each have four points. When all these players are rolling, the Lightning are nearly impossible to beat.
It’s clear that the Lightning are the better team, and their -180 line reflects that. It’s a hard number to swallow, but New York has only been in contention when Point was off the ice.
With him back, I’m picking the Lightning to win and advance to play Dallas for the Cup. If -180 is too high, taking Tampa Bay -1.5 might not be a bad play.
Pick: Lightning -180, Lightning -1.5 +165