Forward Casey Cizikas is set to make his return to the lineup as the NY Islanders (21-17-12) take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (27-19-5) at UBS Arena tonight. Cizikas missed the last ten games with a lower body injury after blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks on January 9th. With Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech returning to the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs a few days ago, the team is finally starting to return to its full, healthy, strength.
On Monday night, the Islander swept former captain John Tavares and his Toronto Maple Leafs in the season series with a dominant 3-2 win. Mat Barzal, who was teammates alongside many Leafs players in the All-Star game, didn't have to travel very far for the game and picked up right where he left off, scoring the opening tally off of a rebound midway through the first. All-Star teammate Mitch Marner tied the game at 4-on-4 only 50 seconds into the second period. Just as time was expiring on that roughing minor given to Bo Horvat, Kylie Maclean who sat for the penalty came zooming out of the box, picking up a pass by Cal Clutterbuck. After a complete misplay by Timothy Liljegren, MacLean used his speed and strength to deke out Ilya Samsonov for his first career NHL goal. MacLean was lucky enough to be able to celebrate with dad John MacLean behind the bench, a special moment the two definitely won't be forgetting any time soon. The two teams battled it out for the rest of the second period and well into the third, a very evenly matched, hard-fought battle between two rested teams. The game was skillful and physical on both sides, not surprising considering how well these two teams tend to play against each other. Leafs captain Tavares tipped one in past Ilya Sorokin with 5 minutes remaining to tie the game at 2. With the previous two games having gone into overtime- with the Isles coming out on top - both teams were ready for extra time. But former Leaf Pierre Engvall couldn't let that happen and scored what was probably the best goal of his career. Tipping a Brock Nelson rebound 5-hole past Samsonov, and talk about someone who needed to get the monkey off of his back after being a healthy scratch for bad game play multiple times this season. Who better than to score the game-winner but Engvall against his former team? Sorokin stood tall all night, saving 34 of 36 shots faced.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming into tonight's matchup off of a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden. While it was a low-shot game, the Rangers were able to hold off Tampa's offense completely, allowing just 18 shots on goal. Jonathan Quick, who started his third-straight game, made 17 of 18 saves. The Rangers were able to clog every shooting lane Tampa thought they had and dismantled a usually very strong offensive team. Jimmy Vesey scored his 10th goal of the season and first goal of the game on the backhand from the goal line. Jonny Brodzinski scored to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead heading into the second period. The Lightning, who hadn't played since back on January 27th before last night, struggled to keep their feet under them and keep up with the Rangers skill. Tragedy struck just 7 minutes into the second when Mikhail Sergachev took a weird fall after checking Alex Lafreniere and had to be stretchered off of the ice. Sergachev was playing in his first game back from a lower-body injury that he sustained on December 19th, missing 17 games. Teammates were clearly affected seeing Sergachev in horrible pain after the fall, struggling to keep him off their minds and their heads in the game. The team rallied behind Sergachev, playing their best period of the night, and Brandon Hagel was able to bring the Lightning within one just 5 minutes into the third period. The Rangers' defense and Quick were able to shut down Tampa for the rest of the game. Vesey scored his second of the game on the empty net with a little over a minute remaining in the game to give the Rangers a dominant 3-1 lead.
This will be the first time these Eastern Conference rivals face off against each other this season. Per Andrew Gross, the Islanders have allowed at least 4 goals in their last five games against the Lightning. These two teams obviously have a lot of history, facing off in back-to-back conference finals in 2020 and 2021, both times the Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup. While these two teams have a long and quite controversial playoff history, the Lightning tend to dominate the Islanders during the regular season. Last season, the Islanders won just one of the three matchups against their Eastern Foes. Each game was high-scoring on one end, and not the most competitive from the other.
On October 22, 2022, Tampa won 5-3 over the Islanders, maintaining a strong lead throughout the whole game. In their second matchup, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 35 saves in a 5-0 win over the Islanders. That game on April 1st clinched the Lightning their 6th straight playoff berth. In their final matchup of the season, just five days later on April 6th, the Islanders beat the Lightning 6-1, bringing the Islanders two points closer in the Eastern Wild Card race, which finished on game 82 of the season with the Islanders and the Florida Panthers clinching the two remaining spots.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Noah Dobson has been hot all season and was held off the scoresheet for the first time in five games against Toronto. The young defenseman continues to make a huge impact both defensively and offensively and is improving greatly under Patrick Roy's new defensive style of play. Ilya Sorokin, who is set to start in net, is coming off one of the best games of the season so far. With a .994 save percentage against the Leafs and a .910% on the season, he is looking to regain some much-needed confidence after the All-Star break.
As one of the most dangerous forwards in the league, Nikita Kucherov has 11 points in his last five games, 4 goals, and 7 assists, and is looking to continue a five-game point streak against the Islanders. He's big, strong, and incredibly skillful on both ends of the ice. Kucherov LOVES playing against the Islanders and knows how to get around their defense. The Isles will have to do a better job of shutting down the forward.
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mat Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom - J.G. Pageau - Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Adam Pelech - Ryan Pulock
Mike Reilly - Scott Mayfield
Nick Paul - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Steven Stamkos - Anthony Cirelli - Brandon Hagel
Michael Eyssimont - Tyler Motte - Conor Sheary
Alex Barré-Boulet - Luke Glendening - Mitchell Chaffee
Victor Hedman - Darren Raddysh
Calvin deHaan - Erik Cernak
Emil Martinsen-Lilleberg - Nick Perbix
(Tampa lines courtesy of DailyFaceoff)