NHL playoffs: Lightning vs. Islanders Game 3 keys
The New York Islanders got the split they were hoping for in Tampa. Tonight, they'll look to take control of their series as the scene switches to Brooklyn for Game 3 (7:00 ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS)
Here are three talking points ahead of the game:
• There's bound to be some controversy as a result of coach Jack Capuano's decision to bench Ryan Strome for Game 3. The 22-year-old forward has four points in six games this postseason, including a pair of assists in the opener against the Lightning. That's more than seven forwards who are likely to be in the Islanders' lineup tonight have produced so far.
But even Strome realizes he hasn't lived up to expectations. “Last series [the message was] I needed to be a little harder to play against,” he said. “Points don’t always tell the whole story."
That's not just a message to Strome. It's for New York's entire forward corpse, which must come to life and take the burden off John Tavares.
Being harder to play against was the difference in the Florida series. Over time, they wore the Panthers down. It's why Florida blew leads in five of six games. And it's why guys like Steve Bernier and Josh Bailey will be in the lineup tonight. Neither of those players is likely to light the lamp, but they're heavier down low on the attack and smarter about their positioning and commitment away from the puck. Those are the qualities that Capuano has identified as giving him his best chance to slow down the Bolts. And those are the qualities they'll have to display with consistency if they want to stay in the lineup moving forward. Strome will figure that out eventually.
• It's not often a Islanders game goes by without Tavares catching your eye, but that's pretty much what happened in Game 2. The Isles' captain had three shots on net but never seemed dangerous as he was checked into submission by Victor Hedman.
With home ice comes last change for the Isles, so you can expect Capuano to work the matchups in his favor. In other words: He'll do everything he can to keep 91 away from the massive Tampa blueliner.
Tavares, who scored the clincher in both Game 6 against the Panthers and Game 1 against the Bolts, has found another level in this year's playoffs. It's most obvious in his skating, but also in his determination to make extraordinary plays in the offensive zone. Look for him to be a difference maker in Game 3.
• Jonathan Drouin's teammates were tripping over themselves to praise the youngster after Game 2. "He is slippery," said coach Jon Cooper. "You ever go fishing and try to grab the fish with a bare hand? That's what he's like."
"He's been carrying this team ever since he's come up here," said goalie Ben Bishop. "You've got to respect that. He's come up with a great attitude."
Drouin, who scored his first postseason goal in Tampa's 4–1 win on Saturday (and almost had his second moments later), has given the Lightning a spark in this series. Every time the puck is on his stick, there's the chance that something special will happen. He can pick the split second a seam opens up and fire a pass through it. He's elusive in motion because of his remarkable edge control. He's driving to the net instead of laying back on the perimeter. Shooting the puck is as much of an option as passing. And he has the composure of a 10-year-vet, allowing him to hold the puck longer and make better decisions under pressure.
The Isles can't afford to give him that opportunity, especially not on the power play where his cross-zone passes have left them spinning like Pete Burns. He'll likely see a lot of Johnny Boychuk tonight. Look for the bigger, heavier defender to lean on Drouin early and often to shorten his shifts and wear him down.