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Stanley Cup Preview: 11 keys to victory in Lightning vs. Islanders

(Ed. Note: Welcome to Round 2 coverage of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where we flip the format and get right to the point with 11 keys to each series. Enjoy!)

The Tampa Bay Lightning dispatched the Detroit Red Wings in five games, in a short but brutal series. The New York Islanders went six games against the Florida Panthers, winning the final game in double-overtime thanks to an un-whistled tripping penalty.

Here are 11 keys to victory for the Lightning vs. the Islanders.

1. Hedman vs. Tavares

Alright, here we go. The immovable object vs. the irresistible force, as the great Gorilla Monsoon would say.

John Tavares entered beast mode in Game 6, willing the Islanders to victory with his game-tying and game-winning goals. He has five goals and four assists in the playoffs, with five power-play points. His line with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen has been dominating for stretches.

Hedman, meanwhile, is playing 27 minutes a night for the Lightning in the playoffs. He’s a dominant defensive stopper. And as Joe Smith of the Tampa Times notes, he was taken second to Tavares in the 2009 Draft:

"Obviously we're in the same draft and went one-two," Hedman said. "He's a world-class player; he's one of the best players in the league. It's going to be a big challenge. We're up for it."

So is Tavares. "(Hedman) has proven himself to be one of the top defensemen in the league," Tavares said Tuesday in New York. "He's got such great physical ability and hockey IQ. Every time we play against him it's always a great challenge. He had a great playoff last year, he really put that D-core on his shoulders in many ways and was huge for their run last year.

"Obviously there's going to be comparisons and people talk about it, but we're just focused on how we're going to help our team. That's all we can really do."

This will be fun.

2. Act Like You’ve Been There

The Islanders managed to win three overtime games against the Florida Panthers. And while some puck luck was involved, once also got the sense that the Panthers might not have had the playoff experience necessary to bring it at the levels the Islanders did – Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo excluded. 

The Lightning, meanwhile, saw it all as a group last season. One assumes they could scrounge up a hero to win one of those overtime games, provided the series is that close.

3. Bishop vs. Greiss

Ben Bishop reinforced his postseason credentials with a .963 even strength save percentage, stopping 116 of 123 shots at 5-on-5. He limited the Red Wings to two or fewer goals in each game, and pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game 5.

But Greiss’s numbers aren’t too shabby either: .948 EV save percentage, stopping 199 of 210 shots. He was essential in those overtime wins, too. There were plenty of questions about Greiss taking over for an injured Jaroslav Halak from people who didn’t realize how good he’s been this season, and how good the Islanders have been in front of him. He answered many of them in Round 1, but can it continue tin Round 2?

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) makes a save on a shot by Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) during the second period of Game 5 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

4. Special Teams

The Lightning only allowed one power-play goal against the Detroit Red Wings and enter this series with the top penalty kill in the playoffs. The Islanders only gave up two goals on 15 shorthanded situations, so they’ve done fine as well.

Where things could get interesting, however, is on the power play, where the Lightning had struggled all season (15.8 percent, third worst in the NHL). They were 4-for-23 against the Red Wings (17.4 percent) while the Islanders were 5-for-21. In a tightly-played series, the Islanders might have the advantage here.

5. Rest Up

Tyler Johnson was ill for the Lightning’s last game. Ryan Callahan battled an injury. Again, it was a brutal series against Detroit … but one that ended nearly a week ago. That’s a lot of R&R for a group that’s played a lot of hockey in the last year.

6. Kucherov

We might be watching a star born in these playoffs. The 22-year-old forward scored 10 goals in 26 playoff games last season as part of the fabled Triplets Line. This season, he has five goals and three assists in five games. He and Tyler Johnson continue to click offensively with Alex Killorn. He’s dangerous, and it’s going to take an effort from Johnny Boychuk or Travis Hamonic to handle him.

7. Secondary Scoring

The Islanders have nine players with at least a goal in the playoffs, despite having the Taraves line earning most of the goals with nine. They seemingly had a different hero every night, whether it was an overtime goal from Thomas Hickey or Alan Quine or a timely goal from Ryan Strome.

The Lightning have been more top-heavy: 10 goals from the Johnson line, and one each from Brian Boyle and Ondrej Palat. They could use more from Jonathan Drouin, Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Fippula or, like, any defenseman.

8. Possession

The Panthers controlled play way too often against the Islanders, finishing their series with a 55.9 score-adjusted Corsi. New York finished with a minus-83.1 score-adjusted Corsi plus/minus, worst in the playoffs.

The Lightning were slightly in the negative against the Red Wings in possession, but were No. 6 in the NHL during the regular season.

This could be a huge advantage if Greiss isn’t the brick wall he was in Round 1.

9. Coaching

Jon Cooper is a very good coach. Jack Capuano … they jury’s out, frankly. He pushed some good buttons last round, but as a tactician we’d say it’s advantage: Lightning. Rather significantly.

10. Stamkos?!

So the Lightning hope that Anton Stralman could be back for this series if it goes long enough, which is huge because he’s their second best defenseman. But the real intrigue is Steven Stamkos.

Now, Jon Cooper doesn’t expect the star forward to return in this series, as he recovers from surgery to correct a blood clot. However, he was back on the ice in a red non-contact jersey this week, and frankly has Wolverine-like healing powers.

Could we See Stamkos against the Islanders?

11. Prediction

Lightning in six. The Islanders were fortunate to escape the Panthers. They lost the possession battle in a big way, and Florida pinned them in their zone for stretches. They needed top-form goaltending from Greiss and a Herculean performance from Tavares just to get by.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has the goaltending, the firepower and the killer instinct to win this series. It could go shorter, we wouldn’t expect it to go longer, but we do expect the Lightning to advance. 

--

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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