For the second consecutive year, hockey fans are treated to a Lightning vs Islanders semifinal matchup. This year marks just the second time in the Salary Cap era where the same two teams have met in the semifinal round in consecutive years; previously, it was the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings in 2013 and 2014. Each team won one of those series and then went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Islanders finished fourth in the East Division standings but advanced in six games over both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Similarly, Tampa Bay finished third in the Central Division but advanced in six games over the Florida Panthers and in five games over the Carolina Hurricanes.
In this Lightning vs Islanders series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Tampa Bay and New York take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Lightning vs Islanders Series Schedule
GAME ONE: Sunday, June 13 @ Tampa Bay, 3:00 P.M.
GAME TWO: Tuesday, June 15 @ Tampa Bay, 8:00 P.M.
GAME THREE: Thursday, June 17 @ New York, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FOUR: Saturday, June 19 @ New York, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FIVE*: Monday, June 21 @ Tampa Bay, 8:00 P.M.
GAME SIX*: Wednesday, June 23 @ New York, 8:00 P.M.
GAME SEVEN*: Friday, June 25 @ Tampa Bay, 8:00 P.M.
* = if needed, all times Eastern
Lightning vs Islanders 2019-20 Results
Because of division realignment and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the Lightning and Islanders did not play in the 2021 regular season. However, with very similar rosters between last year and this year, we can still gain some insight from last season’s results.
2019-20 Regular Season Results
November 1, 2019: Islanders 5, Lightning 2
December 9, 2019: Islanders 5, Lightning 1
February 8, 2020: Lightning 3, Islanders 1
2020 Postseason Results
GAME ONE: Lightning 8, Islanders 2
GAME TWO: Lightning 2, Islanders 1
GAME THREE: Islanders 5, Lightning 3
GAME FOUR: Lightning 4, Islanders 1
GAME FIVE: Islanders 2, Lightning 1 (2OT)
GAME SIX: Lightning 2, Islanders 1 (OT)
Andrei Vasilevskiy: 8-1-2, 2.24 GAA, .934 save percentage, two shutouts (regular season: 31-10-1, 2.21 GAA, .925 save percentage, five shutouts)
Curtis McElhinney: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 4-6-2, 3.09 GAA, .875 save percentage, one shutout)
Semyon Varlamov: 4-2-1, 2.62 GAA, .925 save percentage (regular season: 19-11-4, 2.04 GAA, .929 save percentage, seven shutouts)
Ilya Sorokin: 4-1-0, 2.32 GAA, .934 save percentage (regular season: 13-6-3, 2.17 GAA, .918 save percentage, three shutouts)
No names listed on the injury report.
Anders Lee – knee surgery, expected return: September 2021
Oliver Wahlstrom – lower body, expected return: TBD, doubtful for Game One
Power Play: 41.7% (15/38), first in playoffs, (regular season: 22.2%, ninth in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (28/36), eighth in playoffs, (regular season: 84.2%, fourth in NHL)
Power Play: 28.1% (9/32), fourth in playoffs, (regular season: 18.8%, 20th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 61.5% (16/26), 14th in playoffs, (regular season: 83.7%, sixth in NHL)
Be sure to check out our Daily Free Picks throughout the playoffs for all your NHL betting needs!
Lightning vs Islanders Storylines
Both the Lightning and Islanders have incredible center depth, but the teams utilize their centers in different ways. Tampa Bay’s centers tend to carry a bigger role within the offense, particularly when it comes to driving the play. Because of the high volume of centers on their roster, some of Tampa Bay’s centermen have moved to play a hybrid winger/center role (most notably Steven Stamkos).
In contrast, the Islanders’ centers play more of a two-way game, focusing first on defensive responsibilities and controlling breakouts rather than putting up high goal-scoring totals. While this doesn’t mean players like Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Jean-Gabriel aren’t threats to score (in reality, they are always dangerous around the net), New York’s centers tend to have a bigger impact disrupting play at their own end of the ice, making the matchup of centers, quite possibly, the most pivotal battle of the series.
Another intriguing matchup is the utilization of each team’s blueliners. Tampa Bay has the best defenseman in the series in Victor Hedman, but New York may have the more talented defensive group as a whole.
Among defensemen whose teams are still active in the playoffs, Hedman ranks second in time on ice per game (24:48), but there is a considerable dropoff in usage after Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev. Trade deadline pickup David Savard plays just under 15 minutes per game, and while he has provided the expected physical presence (25 hits, second on team in hits/60), Savard has not been a mainstay in the lineup and has not registered a point.
The Islanders deploy a top four defense group of Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Nick Leddy, and Scott Mayfield. However, despite averaging just 14:09 ice time per game, 21-year-old Noah Dobson leads all Islanders defensemen in points (no goals, seven assists) in the 2021 playoffs. Dobson is also the only New York defenseman yet to take a penalty in the playoffs.
This series features two of the top regular season goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy and Semyon Varlamov. Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 and was just named a finalist for the fourth time in as many years. Varlamov was snubbed from a Vezina nod in 2021 despite leading the league in shutouts (seven), ranking second in save percentage, and fourth in GAA.
The Islanders can win this series, and if they do, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Varlamov appears to be past his late season injury hiccup and back to form, the defense has been sound, and New York is converting at a ridiculous 9.8% 5-on-5 shooting percentage, their highest at any point in the Barry Trotz era.
However, it’s possible (and historically speaking, it’s probable) that the shooting percentage cools off, especially when playing against one of the best goaltenders on the planet in Vasilevskiy. If the Islanders can avoid the frustration that comes with playing Vasilevskiy, stay disciplined (something opponents haven’t done – no team has drawn more playoff penalties than Tampa Bay at 56), and stick to their game plan, they can absolutely get their revenge from a season ago.
Still, all that is easier said than done. The Lightning have an unreal amount of talent on their roster and may be the best team assembled in the Salary Cap Era. Through clever, calculated, and completely legal cap manipulation, Tampa Bay has put together a playoff-eligible roster that is nearly $18 million over the salary cap by using long-term injured reserve exceptions and the shortened regular season schedule to acquire talent and retain their talent. It may mean Cap Hell for the offseason, but with their eyes on another Stanley Cup, the Lightning can worry about that later.
For now, the pick is in, and it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning to advance in six games, returning to the Stanley Cup Final.
SERIES PREDICTION: Tampa Bay Lightning in Six Games.
Be sure to check out our preview of the Golden Knights vs Canadiens series!