Under the NHL’s latest playoff format, the New York Islanders could play both the Panthers and then the Lightning in the first round. I like their chances against both.
The NHL has had to change its plans to restart the NHL season a number of times. The most recent proposal is for a 24 team playoff format split into conferences with best-of-five series before going into the regular tournament. In this format the New York Islanders would start in the play-in games.
Under the NHL’s new proposed plan to restart the 2019-20 NHL season, the New York Islanders would find themselves with a play-in series against the Florida Panthers and (if they win) a first-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Both teams sound like tough matchups in their own right. The Florida Panthers have a lot of talent up top, they have a top-tier goalie with Sergei Bobrovsky, and they have a top-tier coach behind the bench in Joel Quenneville.
The Tampa Bay Lightning may not be rolling over the NHL as they did in 2018-19, but they’re still loaded with talent at every position. And after getting swept in the first round of the playoffs last year, you know they’ll be extra motivated this time around.
But with that being said, the New York Islanders matchup well against both the Panthers and Lightning.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the NHL’s latest plan is to give the top four teams – based on points percentage – in each conference a bye straight into the bracketed portion of the playoffs.
Top 4 Teams in East: Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, Philadelphia
Top 4 Teams in the West: St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas
The rest of the teams would have play-in series with the fifth seed playing the 12th seed and so on. Under this plan, the New York Islanders would be the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. That would have them play against the Florida Panthers (tenth seed) in a play-in series (a best of five) for the right to face the second seed in the East (Tampa Bay).
This season, the Islanders are a combined 5-1-0 against both teams.
Florida Panthers | 2019-20 record: 3-0-0
Over three games in 2019-20, the Islanders have won all three games by a combined score of 8-4. The Islanders haven’t seen the Florida Panthers since December 12th when they left Sunrise with a 3-1 win thanks to power-play goals from Devon Toews and Mathew Barzal.
Sure, since their last meeting, the Panthers have gone 20-15-3 while the Islanders went 14-16-8. But the Islanders will be able to ice a relatively healthy lineup – will Adam Pelech be ready? – and when the Islanders were healthy they were at their very best.
A play-in series against the Panthers bodes well for the Islanders.
Tampa Bay Lightning | 2019-20 record: 2-1-0
The Tampa Bay Lightning are admittedly a scary opponent. With talent up and down the roster and with a point to prove they are certainly a team I wouldn’t want any part of.
But in 2019-20, the Islanders have played well against the Lightning. The Isles hold a 2-1-0 record. In both wins, the Islanders were able to get five goals past the Bolts. Including a 5-2 win on November 1, when Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the net.
Yes, those wins came when the Islanders were at the peak of their powers and the one loss to the Lightning came in February when the Isles were tumbling down the standings.
But looking back at that game, the Islanders were making simple mistakes. Like allowing Carter Verhaeghe to simply walk into the slot unopposed to make it 2-0 after letting Brayden Point score the opening goal 14 seconds into the game on a breakaway.
When the season returns the Islanders coaching staff will have worked out those simple mistakes.
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A series against the Tampa Bay Lightning would be incredibly difficult but it shouldn’t be surprising if the New York Islanders were able to pull out a win.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the Islanders playing a single play-in game versus the Panthers. The play-in portion of this plan is actually a best-of-five series.