The New York Islanders came back from a 2-0 deficit in Game 6 to force overtime and ultimately win the game 3-2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning behind a quick shot from Anthony Beauvillier. The Islanders have proven throughout this series how far they have come since last season’s Eastern Conference Final defeat, and they look like a Stanley Cup contender who are only one win away from the Final itself. The Semifinal series has seen both teams seizing momentum with each passing contest, and the winner-take-all Game 7 should be a culmination of coaching adjustments and players taking advantage of matchups.
Avoid Turnovers in the Defensive Zone
The Boston Bruins uncovered an underlying weakness in the Islanders’ defensemen in the two games that they won where they pressed in the offensive zone to force turnovers, leading to easy scoring opportunities. The Bruins, oddly enough, didn’t continue to attack in the offensive zone but the Lightning rediscovered the weakness. In the 8-0 Game 5 blowout, the Lightning were able to pile on the goals in large part because of their ability to force the Islanders defensemen to react quickly with the puck, and they failed to clear the puck out of the neutral zone. Likewise, the opening goal of Game 6 in the Semifinal series came from Brayden Point creating a turnover off defenseman Adam Pelech failing to clear the puck out of the zone from behind the net.
The Islanders must combat this weakness two-fold, considering the Lightning forwards will continue to pressure the defensemen in their zone to allow quick scoring opportunities. The Islanders, first and foremost, must effectively clear the puck out of the defensive zone with the awareness of where their opponent’s skaters are on the ice. Additionally, the defensemen have to calmly lead the transitions off turnovers where they carry the puck into the offensive zone to set up the scoring opportunities, with Noah Dobson and Nick Leddy particularly thriving in this regard. The team has been led all season by their outstanding defense and the unit that will help the team advance to the Stanley Cup Final will have to not only create turnovers in the defensive zone, but also quickly set up the offense, combating the Lightning aggressiveness.
Limit the Penalties
The Lighting possess the best power-play unit of the teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 20 goals on the man advantage. While Nikita Kucherov, one of the key forwards in the Lightning’s power-play success, is a game-time decision for Game 7, the unit still has incredible puck movement with playmakers across the ice, and the space received on the man advantage results in easy goals scoring opportunities. The Islanders learned first-hand the consequences of giving their opponent the power play in Game 5 when they allowed three of the eight goals on the penalty kill.
The Islanders have limited the Lighting power play for the most part in this series, most notably, in the final period of Game 6 with an excellent penalty kill to preserve the momentum in the game. However, even one penalty can be costly in Game 7 considering scoring opportunities will be at a minimum, and providing easy shots on the goal will not only likely result in one of the rare goals but also swing the momentum of the deciding game. The Islanders can’t just rely on their penalty kill, albeit, the confidence is there with Pelech and Scott Mayfield proving to be a dynamic pair along with the defensive forwards. New York must remain out of the penalty box, prompting the team to play disciplined while not losing their edge along the boards and in the neutral zone.
Offensive Presence Throughout the Lineup
One of the struggles throughout the entire regular season was the offensive production, with the Islanders only scoring 2.71 goals per game. With the team scoring 54 goals in the 18 playoff games, the weakness was covered up with goals being found on all four forward lines, in addition to shots from the point by the defensemen.
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Unfortunately, the Lightning have been limiting the Isles’ offense in the series with their defense forcing difficult shots on the net from tough angles, which are easily saved by their world-class goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. In the Semifinal, the top line has stepped up with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle combining for nine points, but Game 7 will be lost if the entire unit fails to step up and attack the net.
In Game 7, the Islanders must overwhelm a Lightning defense that has done an excellent job this series at limiting the shots in the center of the ice and opportunities on odd-man rushes. The forward unit, in particular, must press their opponent in the offensive zone on all four lines, whether it’s Beauviller, the hero of Game 6, crashing the net from the wings alongside Brock Nelson, or Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck chipping the puck into the offensive zone and forcing a turnover to create a quick scoring chance. Goals will be at a minimum in the series-deciding game and any shot on net can decide the game. The Isles must create scoring chances throughout the lineup and most importantly, fire the puck on the net with the hope that a good shot can slip past Vasilevskiy.
What Else Will the Islanders Need to Win Game 7?
The upcoming game can come down to a lucky bounce, a clutch shot, the ability to capitalize on a missed opportunity, and anything in between. Both the Islanders and the Lightning are more than worthy of playing in the Stanley Cup Final, and the Semifinal series has shown two complete teams that should play a great Game 7. New York must continue to play their brand of hockey, forcing turnovers along the boards, making puck movement difficult through the neutral zone, and powering their way to the net. Head coach Barry Trotz has been in this situation before and the roster is well-prepared for the upcoming game. The hope is that the entire team steps up to pull the upset and allow the team to play in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1983-84 NHL season.