After Game 6 Sunday Night at Barclays Center between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers, you could hear all over Long Island and Brooklyn “Yes, Yes, Yes.” The infamous streak of 23 years of not winning a playoff series is over for the Islanders organization.
To put it into perspective the last time the Isles won a playoff series the Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars and the Hartford Whalers were part of the NHL. Also the Winnipeg Jets had yet to move to Arizona. But now New York moves on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. There are a few keys for the Islanders versus Tampa series if they want to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
— NHL (@NHL) April 25, 2016
Helping Tavares & Greiss
The top two reasons the Islanders are facing the Lightning are the play of Thomas Greiss and John Tavares. In Round 1, Greiss posted a 1.79 goals against average along with a .944 save percentage. Tavares had nine points (5 goals) which included the game winner in double overtime in Game 6, which ended the series against the Panthers.
But now the rest of the team needs to play even better if they want their postseason play to continue. Frans Nielsen has played well with three goals. After that, no Islander player has more than one goal. That has to change. I expect Tavares and Nielsen will continue their strong play but Ryan Strome, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and New York’s vaunted fourth line must make bigger contributions against Tampa.
In terms of helping Greiss, the Islanders’ top four defensemen, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan, must continue to elevate their play. They were not at their best at the beginning of the series versus Florida. In addition, New York must minimize the turnovers in their own end as well as center ice. Greiss bailed them out many times last series after turnovers, but you cannot expect the German netminder to come through every time.
How about Thomas Greiss!? I bet nobody expected his .944 save percentage after round 1.
— 𝐃𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐝 𝐀𝐥𝐭𝐞𝐫 (@dalter) April 25, 2016
A big reason why New York is moving on is their special teams. Of the Islanders’ 15 goals in Round 1, five of them came on the power play. New York went 5-for-21 with the extra man against the Panthers. A far cry from last year when the Isles lost to the Washington Capitals in Round 1 and went 0-for-14 on the power play.
New York continued their strong penalty kill play in the playoffs. During the regular season the Islanders had one of the top PK units in the league, finishing fourth. In Round 1, they killed 13 of 15 shorthanded situations.
Even with improved secondary scoring, if the Islanders are going to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, their stellar special teams play must continue.
Contain the Triplets
Going into their series against the Panthers, New York knew they had to contain their top line of Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. That trio produced three goals in six games. With the way the Lightning’s top line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn are playing the challenge in Round 2 will be even greater.
The bad news for New York is Tampa’s number one line produced 10 goals in five games against the Red Wings. The good news for the Islanders is the rest of the Lightning players only scored two goals against Detroit. Secondary scoring could be an issue for Tampa.
There is no way New York is going to keep Tampa’s top line off the board. But if they can replicate their performance versus the Jagr line against Tampa’s big trio, one would have to like the Islanders’ chances in this series.
I expect another long, tough series for the Islanders; one filled with one goal games as well as games that go to overtime. It’s very possibly the hockey fans from Long Island and Brooklyn will be watching their team throughout the month of May.