Now that the New York Islanders have finally clinched a playoff spot, thanks to a little bit of help from the Florida Panthers, we can begin to look ahead to which potential match-ups would best suit the Islanders in the first round.
As of now, the Islanders could meet the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning or Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just over a week ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to be a lock to meet the Islanders in the first round, but with both teams slipping in the standings as much as they have, that is no longer a possibility.
Pittsburgh would have been the ideal first-round matchup for the Islanders, given the way they have matched up against them this year and the revenge factor from the first round of the 2013 playoffs. But since that is no longer a possibility, let’s break down the matchups the Isles can endure in the first round of the playoffs.
One team I can say right off the bat the Islanders don’t want to see in the first round of the playoffs is Montreal. In three matchups against the Canadiens, the Islanders have been outscored 12-6 losing all three meetings in regulation. There is no goalie in the NHL better than Carey Price right now, and elite goaltending can be kryptonite for any team in the playoffs, especially for a team like the Islanders who have been inconsistent offensively as of late.
The Islanders would have their work cut out for them against Montreal and a matchup with them would likely result in another early exit from the playoffs and a very short series.
Despite winning their first three matchups of the season in dominant fashion, the Islanders would be better off avoiding the Rangers in the first round for a variety of reasons. For one, it would mean that the Islanders slipped into the eight seed. But more importantly, it would mean playing one of the hottest teams in the NHL. If Carey Price is the best goaltender in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist is a very close second. Not to mention the Rangers have seemingly gotten better as the season has progressed, whereas the Islanders have appeared at times to be out of gas.
I’m not saying the Islanders can’t beat the Rangers in a seven-game series. But it would take everything they have out of them and would likely leave them battered and bruised for their second-round opponent. The Canadiens are a sure-fire red light for the Islanders in the first round and the Rangers are a yellow light about to turn red.
The most likely matchup for the Isles in the first round of the playoffs would be against the Capitals. Of the four teams the Islanders could see in the playoffs, the Capitals would likely be the most even-keeled matchup. In their four meetings during the regular season, the Islanders and Capitals have split the season series with two wins apiece. Three out of the four games were decided in overtime or a shootout with the only dominant performance being a 5-2 Capitals win over the Islanders on November 28th. I could easily see this series go either way as far as scoring goes.
I feel like it could just as easily be a goaltender’s duel between Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak as it could be an offensive shootout between John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom & Co.. Either way, this is the type of series I see going into overtime of Game 7. The Islanders need to do what they can over the next two games to ensure that Game 7 is played in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
As unlikely as it is, a first-round matchup between the Islanders and Lightning could be interesting to say the least. The Islanders have taken two out of the three regular season matchups with the Lightning by scores of 5-2 and 3-1. Despite how well the Lightning have played this season, they are still unproven in the playoffs, which I think would make them a very favorable matchup for the Islanders, who also have very little playoff experience.
I don’t think the Islanders would be a lock to beat Tampa Bay in the first round, but I could see a very wide open fun series between the two teams. And I think the Islanders have a little bit more depth to get it done in the playoffs than the Lightning do.