Lightning look to jump on top of Isles
With or without Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay’s first-round series win over the Red Wings seemed inevitable. Now that the Lightning’s captain and leading scorer is back on the ice with teammates, though, how long can this playoff ride last?
Tampa Bay’s journey through the Eastern Conference continues in tonight’s semifinal opener vs. the Islanders, with a 7 p.m. ET opening draw at Amalie Arena. Oddsmakers at online sports book Bovada.lv give coach Jon Cooper’s crew odds of -155 to protect home-ice advantage. Visiting New York, meanwhile, enters as a +135 underdog.
The Isles weren’t exactly considered favorites against Florida, either, but they eliminated the Atlantic Division champion in six games. Thomas Greiss allowed just 13 goals on 234 shots in the opening round for a 1.79 GAA. He received ample support from top-flight forward John Tavares, who punished the Panthers for five tallies and four assists.
As for the Lightning, they managed to rout Detroit – despite the absence of Stamkos. The former Maurice Richard Trophy victor has resumed shooting and skating drills, however, for the first time since undergoing surgery April 4 for a blood clot near his right collarbone. He obviously won’t suit up immediately, but the 26-year-old’s mere presence will undoubtedly lift everyone around him.
Stamkos’ injury did open the door for Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov to thrive. Those three skaters combined for 10 goals and 10 helpers against the Red Wings. Even so, Cooper would love to employ a more balanced attack vs. New York, which required double OT to vanquish Florida over the weekend. Tampa Bay’s weeklong layoff could produce a sluggish start, but anticipate a course correction early in the second period.
WEDNESDAY NHL FREE PICK: LIGHTNING -1.5