NHL Playoff Series Preview: (3) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (4) New York Islanders

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders Series Line and Stanley Cup Futures

Odds to Win Series: Lightning -250|Islanders +200

Odds to win Stanley Cup: Lightning +140|Islaners +600

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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders News, Analysis, and Picks

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t let being a three-seed prevent them from making the league semifinals for the second straight year. They are now tasked with getting past the lower-seeded New York Islanders for a chance to repeat as champs. Neither team has outstanding metrics, so which team is worth backing in the betting market?

Tampa Bay Lightning Analysis: Untenable Metrics

The Tampa Bay Lightning have made it through the first two rounds of the playoffs relative unscathed. The Lightning needed six games to get past the Florida Panthers in Round 1 before skating past the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the second round. Tampa did improve their metrics in Round 2. However, they remain on the wrong side of most relative metrics.

At five-on-five, the Bolts have been out-possessed, out-shot, and out-chanced in scoring opportunities. The only relative metric advantage they hold is in high-danger chances, but that wasn’t enough to get their expected goals-for percentage above 50.0%. Through 11 games, the Lightning have an expected goals-for percentage of 48.8% at five-on-five.

Those relative metrics take a turn for the worse across all strengths, as the Lightning have an expected goals-for percentage of 45.8%. There is a drop-off across the board, including high-danger chances percentage, which dips to 48.3%. Somehow, though, the Lightning continue to win games, and that has them flirting with some untenable metrics.

In total, the Bolts have the highest PDO this postseason, thanks to inflated shooting and save percentages. Through two rounds, the Lightning have an 11.8% shooting percentage and 93.1% save percentage, both of which are above regular season averages. Tampa has posted below-average shooting and save percentages in the same game, just twice this postseason, which means they’ve been pretty lucky thus far.

There are also concerns arising from Andrei Vasilevskiy’s all-or-nothing metrics. Vasilevskiy has posted a save percentage below 90.0% in four of 11 games and above 95.0% in six games, with one game save percentage of 91.9%. In the four games that Vasilevskiy has posted a save percentage below 90.0%, the Bolts are scoring on 13.4% of their shots. Tampa is teetering between improbable and collapse.

New York Islanders Analysis: Can the Defense Hold up?

The Islanders are in a similar boat as the Lightning. They have poor relative metrics but have been buoyed by impressive goaltending and timely offensive performances. The difference is, the Islanders have been better defensively than the Lightning have.

New York has played one more game and over 100 minutes more than the Lightning have, but they have maintained their defensive integrity throughout the playoffs, particularly in their own end. The Islanders give up 10.6 high-danger chances per 60-minutes, compared to the Lightning’s 12.0 high-danger chances allowed per 60-minutes.

Another notable difference is that the Islanders have used home ice to their advantage, whereas the Lightning have not. New York has an expected goals-for percentage of 53.5% on the road and 39.0% on the road. Compared to the Lightning that have a negative relative percentage at home and on the road. Tampa has a 48.5% expected goals-for percentage at home and 43.5%. The Islanders may need Semyon Varlamov to steal a road game, but if their home metrics are any indication, they should have the Lightning beat in New York.

Varlamov is an important part of the Islanders’ equation. Since returning to the starter’s crease against the Bruins, he’s posted a 93.4% save percentage, allowing a combined 12 goals in over 318 minutes of action. Consistency is a huge part of success, and Varly’s save percentage range from 90.9% to 96.6% is much more reliable than Vaselivskiy’s 84.0% to 100.0%.

The Islanders have been the better team across all strengths, posting a 46.5% expected goals-for percentage, slightly above the Lightning’s 45.8%. That is not enough to tip the betting market in favor of the Islanders, but the analytics support that this series will be a lot closer than the betting market implies.

Summary: 

The Islanders and Lightning have both overachieved to get to the semifinals, but the Islanders have been better. On that basis, we’re backing the more responsible defensive team that is getting more consistent goaltending. The Islanders have been underestimated through the opening two rounds, and that is once again the case, as they are priced as +200 underdogs.

The Bet: Islanders +200