The Stanley Cup semifinals kicked off with a Sunday afternoon showdown between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders in Tampa. It’s a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final which the Lightning won in six games before eventually going on to win the Cup.
Game 1 of last year’s ECF was a stunning 8-2 blowout in favor of Tampa, but this year’s series opener had a much different vibe. Not only was it a low-scoring, defensive affair, but it also went in the Islanders’ favor, 2-1.
Let’s dive into some takeaways from Sunday.
Barzal stays hot
This game was plagued by some sloppy play and a slow pace in the early going, and we didn’t see a whole lot in the way of prime scoring opportunities. Mat Barzal eventually broke the ice about halfway through the game when Steven Stamkos committed a costly turnover that allowed Josh Bailey to hit Barzal with a crisp pass for a breakaway.
Barzal took it strong to the net and buried his opportunity via five hole on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That’s Barzal’s fourth goal of the playoffs, with all of them coming in his last five games. He started off the postseason on an eight-game goalless streak but has since turned it around and has once again become a difference-maker at the top of the Islanders’ lineup. That’s huge for New York.
With Barzal on the ice at 5v5, the Islanders out-attempted (13-8), outshot (9-4) and outscored (2-0) Tampa Bay in Game 1.
Few opportunities from Tampa special teams
The Lightning’s typically explosive offense looked a little lackluster Sunday. Whether it was because of rust or unpreparedness, they had a tough time generating grade-A scoring chances and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone. They also turned over the puck quite a bit, with seven official giveaways to the Islanders’ one. To New York’s credit, it played a fantastic defensive game.
There weren’t many areas in which the Tampa Bay outplayed the Isles in the series opener, but the Lightning did manage to have an edge in special teams. Their lone goal came in the final minute of the game when Brayden Point scored on the power play. That seemed to spark some life into the offense but, unfortunately for Tampa, it was too little, too late.
The Lightning only had two power plays on the day, so credit the Islanders for staying out of the box and limiting Tampa Bay’s chances on the man advantage. As for New York’s own power play, it was once again pretty lifeless. The Isles went 0-for-3, and the Lightning actually had more high-danger chances while shorthanded (3) than New York did on the man advantage (1).
It seems fair to expect the Bolts to win the special teams battle in this series — their power play is operating above a 40 percent clip in the playoffs — but they need to do a better job of sustaining pressure at 5v5 in order to get more opportunities on the power play. If the Islanders can stay out of the box like they did in Game 1, they’ll be able to mitigate the inevitable damage on special teams.
Vasilevskiy not sharp
The Tampa Bay goaltender didn’t have his best game in net to start the series. He made some big stops, especially in the early going, but both goals scored on him were not of the highest quality. The first goal came on the breakaway, but the five hole was left open when it was really the only shot that Barzal had at that angle. The second goal was a downright disaster for Vasilevskiy.
An unscreened shot from the point that was fired straight at the center of the net? Tough look. It should hurt a little extra that that goal served as the game-winner.
Vasilevskiy has been a monster for the Lightning all season long, and it feels safe to assume he’ll once again be a key performer again in this series. But he certainly wasn’t his sharpest in Game 1.
What to watch for Monday
Game 1: Montreal at Vegas (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN): The Golden Knights are opening as MASSIVE favorites (-500), and not many people are giving the Canadiens a real shot against Vegas. (For what it's worth, I picked VGK to sweep.) The Golden Knights are coming off a high-octane series against Colorado, and Vegas got crushed by the Avalanche in Game 1 following a grueling series against the Wild. We’ll see if VGK get off to a better start this time or if Montreal can prove the doubters wrong and run with the Knights in the opener.