By Andy Palm, Columnist
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been dominating the Eastern conference finals thus far. After a demanding 8-2 victory in Game 1, it began to look like maybe the New York Islanders didn’t belong in this stage of the competition.
Tampa Bay put on an absolute clinic, showing why many view them as the most purely talented team the league has to offer. The most impressive thing about the Lightning is that they have been doing all of this without their all star captain Steven Stamkos. They will have to continue to do so for the remainder of this round, as Stamkos has already been ruled out as he deals with an undisclosed lower body injury.
Game 2 was a closer competition but Tampa still showed their superiority and ultimately ended up coming out on top 2-1.
Game 3 was similar to Game 2, but New York was able to sneak out with a victory after a late third period goal snuck in by forward Brock Nelson.
The Islanders played with a sense of desperation, and their forecheck was the best we’ve seen from them thus far in the series. Even with them playing at a high level, it still almost wasn’t enough to keep the Lightning contained.
This series has now become slightly more interesting, emphasis on slightly. It is very clear who the better team is. As long as the Lightning are able to keep their mental game in check, they should be able to stroll to the Stanley Cup with fairly little resistance.
I say keep their mental game in check due to how the ending of Game 3 turned out. Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau was making his way to an empty net goal to secure a 5-3 lead at the end of the game when Lightning star Nikita Kucherov instigated a brawl after the puck went in. The confrontation caused both teams to be at each other’s throats.
Some may see the Lightning’s antics as a way to try and gain momentum to go off of entering Game 4; I do not. This to me showed that New York got into Tampa’s head. They did it to Washington, they did it to Philadelphia, and Tampa is vulnerable to be the next victim.
Letting New York win the mental game is extremely asinine and could be fatal for their championship aspirations.
Personally, I feel this game was a blip on the radar, and Tampa will be right back to dominating in Game 4. They’re simply too talented for New York. Expect the Lightning’s first line to show out on Sunday afternoon, and lead them to victory. I have Tampa Bay winning this series four games to one.