The New York Islanders will be looking to build on their hold of the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. The Lightning will be a good test for an Islanders squad that is being tagged as a dark horse contender.
The Lightning have posted a 5-5-0 record over their last 10 games but have reeled off two-consecutive victories with wins over the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. The Islanders’ last win also came over the Capitals as they picked up their first shootout victory of the season. With a 6-3-1 record in their previous 10, the Islanders have a three-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top wild-card seed.
The two teams will be meeting for just the second time this season. The Lightning won the first game back on Oct. 22 by a score of 5-3. Ilya Sorokin certainly didn’t have his best performance of the season, as he allowed five goals on 26 shots. Brayden Point and Nick Paul each had a goal and an assist to lead the Lightning to the win. Despite being on the wrong side of the score, the Islanders outshot the Lightning, 35-26, in the game. Both teams went zero for three on the power play.
Dating back to the 2015-16 season, the two Eastern Conference foes have met 19 times, with the Lightning posting a 13-6 record. In that period, the Islanders have been outscored, 72-51. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has 20 goals and 24 assists in 41 career games against the Islanders. Brock Nelson has scored nine goals and six assists in 25 career games against the Lightning.
Tonight’s matchup is also a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. The pesky Islanders pushed the Lightning into a decisive Game 7 before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.
Players To Watch
Brayden Point has been scoring at a torrid pace for the Lightning this season. He has a team-leading 47 goals and has added 39 assists for 86 points in 76 games. Point will be looking to light the red lamp as he attempts to crack the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career. Nikita Kucherov has already surpassed the 100-point mark with 28 goals and 78 assists. He has four assists in his last four games. As mentioned, Steven Stamkos has racked up several points while going head-to-head with the Islanders. He has compiled 32 goals and 47 assists for 79 points in 75 games this season.
Related: Islanders Are The Eastern Conference’s Dark Horse Contender
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For the Islanders, Kyle Palmieri will be looking to continue his trend of offensive production of late. The veteran forward seems to be hitting his stride and has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his last seven games. Palmieri missed extensive time this season due to injury but has given the Islanders the secondary scoring they need. In addition, Pierre Engvall has scored in consecutive games for the Islanders and has been an excellent addition since coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline.
Goaltending Matchup For The Ages
With Sorokin and Andrei Vasilevskiy expected to start in goal, the game will feature two of the NHL’s premier Russian netminders going head-to-head. Sorokin has been the Islanders’ backbone and heartbeat all season long. He has put together a season where he should be a Vezina Trophy finalist and be in the conversation for the Hart Memorial Trophy. He has a 28-19-7 record with a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) and a .924 save percentage (SV%). His five shutouts are also tied for the NHL lead this season.
Vasilevskiy had a slow start to the season by his standards, but the big man seems to have his game dialed in with playoffs just around the corner. He has a 33-20-4 record with his 2.61 GAA and .916 SV%.
The Lightning sit four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs as they will be looking to catch them for home-ice advantage in their first-round matchup. The Islanders will also have their eyes on the out-of-town scoreboard as they continue to battle for wild-card positioning.
Sorokin has been next level over his past two starts surrendering just two goals on 57 shots. He will have a busy evening against the fifth-best-ranked power play in the league. The Lightning’s power play will face a good test as the Islanders have a strong penalty kill, coming into the game ranked eighth at 82 percent.
Like many games over the weekend, this one will have a playoff-like atmosphere, and if you think the Islanders have forgotten about that Eastern Conference Final loss just two years ago, think again. They will be out to prove their worth amongst the top teams in the East with a strong performance tonight.