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IslesBlog Roundtable: X-Factors in Stanley Cup Semifinals Rematch

After shocking NHL analysts and models in their six game series victory over the Boston Bruins, the Islanders face even more outrageous odds against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Models across the league give the Islanders roughly a 30% chance to win the series, something that has not stopped the Isles yet. In order to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1984, the IslesBlog staff put together its collection of X-Factors.

Matt Watling (Contributor): Forward Depth

Perhaps it is a cop out to name 12 players from each side, given that is 60% of each team, but the name of the game in this series will be scoring. Both teams boast outlandish defensive and goaltending numbers, stemming from a pair of goalies that should be top five in Vezina Trophy voting. Despite that, it really falls on the Isles’ middle six to provide an offensive edge they did not have last year.

Against Tampa last year, the blue and orange’s middle six scored just 10 points (4-6-10) in six games. This time around, they need to be better and it starts with Kyle Palmieri. The deadline add has been incredible in these playoffs, completing revamping a third line that is arguably the best on the team. Mix that with the streaky killer B’s led by Anthony Beauvillier and his line leading 11 points, and the “Drive for Five” might not retire to Florida.

Ben Mandell (Contributor): Anthony Beauvillier

My X-Factor for this series is Anthony Beauvillier. He was electric in the first round but cooled off a bit in the last series. To compete with Tampa Bay, the Isles will need all four lines to produce, and Beauvillier needs to use his speed and athleticism to open things up.

Bri Repetto (Contributor): Semyon Varlamov and Top Six Centers

Looking at the next round goaltending is going to be huge and basing off of the fact that Semyon Varlamov did really well against the Bruins in the last round, he is going to be crucial moving forward against Tampa. In addition, offensive pieces have to be strong. Players like Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal are going to be key players as well. 

Dani Mohr (Contributor): The Power Play

It’s important now more than ever that the French Connection line (Beauvillier – JG Pageau – Travis Zajac) and the Barzal line makes an aggressive effort following shots and staying close to the crease. Defensive assets like Adam Pelech can propel forwards like Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson to create momentum and help force more shots on net.

Eric Vogel (Contributor): Rest and Goaltending

The X-factor for this series is going to be Russian goaltending and rest. Andrei Vasilevskiy has averaged 67 games per year the last four years. Even with the shortened seasons the last two years he has managed to play in 130 games which is a lot. Varlamov has averaged 52 games over the last four years and has played 25 fewer games than Vasi over the last two seasons, although Vasilevskiy has youth on his side. Unfortunately for the Lightning, his backup, Curtis McElhinney, is a drastic downgrade. If for some reason, Vasilevskiy has to be taken out, it spells trouble for Tampa.  The Isles, on the other hand, have a backup capable of not only filling in, but stealing a game on his own in Ilya Sorokin.

Rest is highly underrated. Last year, the Isles won game seven against the Flyers, had one day off and were smoked by a Tampa team that had a week of rest. I don’t think we’re going to see any games from the Islanders like game one from last year.

Ryan Dunnigan (Contributor): The Lightning’s Power Play

The X-Factor in this series is the Lightning power play. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals the Tampa power play was very effective. Going into this series, their power play is converting at an unheard of 41.7%. The Isles penalty kill showed some weakness against the Bruins and things are only going to get more difficult with Tampa

Ethan Greenberg (Contributor): Isles Penalty Kill

The Isles must stay out of the box as much as possible to give themselves a chance. The Isles have had an excellent PK all season, but it had a tough time slowing down Boston’s lethal top unit in round two. It will be a similar story in round three because it’s nearly impossible to neutralize a talented PP with shooters and playmakers like Tampa’s. The best PK for New York this round will be staying out of the box. But the Lightning will get their chances, and the Isles need to slow them down to give themselves a puncher’s chance.

Brooks Simpson (Contributor): Nick Leddy

The skilled puck-carrying blueliner had some rough moments in physical games, but with Pulock and Pelech assigned to shut down Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, it will be up to Nick Leddy to move the puck while Scott Mayfield keeps an eye on Steven Stamkos. Can Leddy assert himself offensively and defensively?

Sal Farieri (Contributor): The Nassau Coliseum.

I have to go back to my X-Factor for the previous series. The Islanders clearly play their best hockey in front of the Coliseum faithful. In the series against Boston, they were outshot in four of the six games, but outshot the Bruins in two out of the three games at the old barn. They also outscored them 11-5. Last summer, in the Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders did not have the advantage of playing the Lightning at the Nassau Coliseum. That will now turn into a big advantage. If the Islanders can once again split the first two games, they will be in a great position to take over the series and possibly play for a Stanley Cup.

David Tuckman (Contributor): J.G. Pageau

Tampa is the most formidable opponent the Islanders could face. Its depth, the way its defense is involved offensively, its power play and its goaltending is a unique challenge that is nearly impossible for any team to combat.

That said, the Islanders can do it if J.G. Pageau (and company) can somehow keep the Point line off the score sheet. If this happens, the rest of the team matches up fairly well. Obviously, the power play will have to do well and the goaltending will have to match Vasilevskiy, but first and most importantly, Pageau’s line has to continue their magical run of stopping the opposing teams most dangerous line at five-on-five.

Tim Ryder
(Contributor): Ryan Pulock
If Ryan Pulock is finding space to do what he does – absolutely blast off – it’s a game-changer. Boston did a very good job keeping that threat at bay. If Trotz can find a way to keep Pulock firing from the point, even if he’s not scoring, pucks on net result in good things.

Daniel Friedman (Columnist): Islanders’ D

The Isles’ D is the x-factor. If they can neutralize Tampa’s offense, this series is up for grabs. I think the Islanders will make this a series and I think it’ll be closer than it was last time. Tampa is a great team but they have yet to face a team that plays as well systemically as the Islanders do.

James Nichols (Co-Editor-in-Chief): Semyon Varlamov
With each passing round, the opponent just gets tougher. The Islanders offense seems to be clicking, and the defense is playing to the Trotz structure. It’s up to Semyon Varlamov to continue keeping the puck out of the net within the first five minutes of puck drop to give the Islanders the chance to play with a lead, while also making the saves he maybe isn’t supposed to make, especially against an offense as potent as Tampa Bay’s.
Rob Taub (Co-Editor-in-Chief): Brock NelsonBrock Nelson played like a man possessed in the clinching game six against the Bruins. He was showing a speed and intensity we’ve yet to see from him in his career. Some of that might have to do with him becoming a dad again for the second time. But in all seriousness, he’s gotten hot at the right time. The Islanders are going to need as much secondary scoring if they to beat a powerhouse Bolts team and secure their spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Nelson has to take it to an even higher level this round.

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