Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final is upon us, with Friday’s game having some profound implications for how the rest of this series can turn out. The Tampa Bay Lightning can take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a win, while the New York Islanders need a win to get back in the series.
Here is a preview for Friday’s Game 3 between the Lightning and the Islanders, along with a series recap and a free pick. Once again, Tampa Bay is favored in the contest, listed at -165.
In one of the most lopsided games of the entire postseason, an eight-goal performance surged the Lightning in Game 1, as they beat the Islanders 8-2. Center Brayden Point and right-wing Yanni Gourde each netted a pair of goals in the contest, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 out of 24 shots for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay was 3-for-6 on the power play, with Point, Gourde, and defenseman Victor Hedman all converting on the man-advantage.
Game 2 was a lot more of a defensive grind, but some late-game heroics helped the Lightning win 2-1 and doubled their series lead. After left-wing Matt Martin put the Islanders ahead early in the game, Hedman answered with the equalizer late in the first.
The game then remained scoreless for about 40 minutes of action, as both Vasilevskiy and Semyon Varlamov made big saves, and each defense held firm. However, Tampa’s last-second push was fruitful, as right-wing Nikita Kucherov buried the game-winner with nine seconds left in regulation for his fifth goal of the postseason.
Keys to Victory
Tampa Bay will win if they continue to win the battles on defense. While the eight-goal performance in Game 1 showcased Tampa Bay’s ability to put pucks in the net, their defense has been excellent in both games. During five-on-five play, the Lightning have held New York to two goals in 82 minutes of action.
It’s in line with how they performed during the regular season, as they allowed the sixth-fewest goals during five-on-five play while also being one of the best teams at limited high-danger scoring chances. Another dominant defensive effort will put them in an excellent position to win Game 3.
New York will win if they shut down Tampa’s stars. The trio of Kucherov, Point, and Hedman has been lights out for the Bolts this series. The Islanders yet to find an answer for how to stop them. They will need to do so to salvage the series, which means a return to Islanders hockey.
New York will need to be tough and aggressive, forcing mistakes and controlling possession through an unrelenting forecheck. We saw some of that in Game 2, where they controlled the pace for the majority of the game while also leading in shots, hits and faceoff wins. This is the way the Islanders will need to play while shutting down the All-Stars they’re going up against, in order for them to win and avoid a crippling deficit.
To salvage the series, the Islanders will need to control possession, silence Tampa’s red hot stars. Simultaneously, getting production from slumping players like center Matthew Barzal against a team playing elite defense.
The point being, it’s a lot to count on. New York’s best chance may have been in Game 2 before Kucherov’s game-winner, so I’m going with the Lightning to ride the momentum and put themselves on the brink of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Pick: Lightning -165
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