Elite Sports NY sits down with Jayson Margol of Bolts Jolts before a critical second-round matchup between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Who’s an overshadowed player you believe is poised to have a big series?
This is a tricky question to begin with, but it’s compounded by Jon Cooper’s blender style with line combos. With the caveat of him being given decent ice time, I think Vladdy Namestnikov has the potential to be a star in this series. He is a shifty and speedy forward that does a lot with a little in terms of linemates and ice time. He led TB forwards in CF% over the course of the season at an excellent 55.14% while putting up a 1.73 points per 60 rate.
Namestnikov has the talent to be a game breaker and if Cooper can get him on the ice often and in the right situations, he should have plenty of opportunities to do just that.
How impactful has Steven Stamkos‘ injury been on the Bolts’ playoff chances?
I think when the news broke about his blood clot, a lot of pundits and a lot of fans alike all thought that TB was doomed. Most had the first round series with Detroit going from a “laugher” to a coin flip at best. Stamkos is a huge part of TB’s offense so I can see where most would view it as so significant, that it could turn TB from a conference contender to a one and done team.
However TB has a lot of offensive weapons. All they need is for one or two of them to step up and they should be fine. And that’s what they have done thus far, namely Kucherov, Johnson, and Drouin.
Having said that, the deeper into the playoffs TB goes, the more they will miss their captain. The more that .47 goals per game he produces will be needed. Only time will tell if the other offensive dynamos can continue to pick up the slack in his absence to the tune of wins.
The Bolts are coming off an über-physical series with the Detroit Red Wings. Do you expect round two to be the same?
Simple answer? No.
Longer answer? Detroit and TB have built some kind of rivalry over the past few years. Not only with their NHL playoff matchups, but a lot of players on both teams came up through the AHL and faced each other in the Calder Cup Final as well. What’s the saying? Familiarity breeds hatred. That’s what you got in the last round. Deep rooted hatred for the other team and both teams absolutely refusing to budge an inch to allow the other team to win a battle.
The Islanders and TB don’t have that history. They haven’t seen each other in the playoffs for 12 years. They did play 2 games late in the season that had some questionable plays that led to TB injuries, but I still don’t think that’s enough to have that hate….yet. The Isles are a feisty team and it’s the playoffs. There will be scraps, scrums, and squawks. But there probably won’t be any melees or chicken dances to the tune of the Detroit series.
Just how good has goaltender Ben Bishop been?
Ben Bishop has been spectacular all season long. He should most definitely be a Vezina finalist this year, with a strong possibility to win it. He was tops in the league in GAA and SV% with goalies who played more than 41 games. He is the key cog in the TB PK, boasting a league leading .913 SV%. Simply put, he was arguably the best goalie in the league this year.
He is quickly earning the reputation of being a big game goalie after posting his 3rd series clinching shutout victory in the last two years.
He is also the key to TB surviving another series while still slightly undermanned. TB will go as far as Bishop will take them.
The Isles’ fourth line is known as the most productive in the league. How do the Bolts plan on stopping it?
I’ve always felt that the best way to stop a line from doing damage is to make them play defense. The NYI 4th line is spectacular in the role they play, no doubt. They are among the best at getting the puck deep and banging bodies and cycling until a chance arises that they can convert into a scoring chance and a possible goal. They wear the opponent down. However TB has speed that can take advantage of them while exiting the defensive zone on breakouts. One ill timed extra step to make a hit by Martin, Clutterbuck, or Cizikas can lead to a quick odd man rush for TB.
Quick and accurate outlet passes from the TB dmen will allow them to keep that line on it’s heels. Once TB is in the offensive zone, their quick cycle game along with their aggressive dman pinches will force the NYI line to be chasers rather than aggressors.
Nassau Coliseum was notorious for being hell to opposing players during the playoffs. Can Amalie Arena be the same?
Amalie Arena has definitely been a warm and cozy place for TB the past few seasons. Last year they were the best home team in the league. They have put up at least 25 wins at home each season for the past three years. The Amalie crowd is always vocal and involved throughout the entire game. They interact with opposing players in many ways including booing the puck carrier on the opposing teams power plays all the way to a dancing astronaut doing its best to pump the crowd and distract the opposing team bench.
This atmosphere has carried itself into the playoffs this year. TB has scored more, and generally put up better efforts with their fans behind them. In return, fans have been rewarded with TB being 3-0 and the only team in the playoffs to not lose a home game yet. Coming to TB to play is no longer a mini vacation for teams to get wins and a sun tan.
What has impressed you about the Islanders?
I only caught a handful of Isles games that didn’t involve TB during the regular season. However I did watch all of their playoff series with Florida. I was impressed with a few things but two really stood out.
The first is their tenacity. They were always in games and never looked as though they were going to mail it in. Even if the score was out of hand they were still very engaged. It’s a good attribute for a playoff team to have.
The second is Tavares. He’s always been a great player. And last year came within seconds of a scoring title. It seems he has found another level so far in these playoffs. When your best player is actually your best player in a series, you will most likely win that series. TB will have its hands full trying to stop, nay, slow him down. The man picked directly after Tavares will be a big part of that. Should be a spectacular matchup to watch.
What’s one additional thing Isles fans should know about the Lightning?
TB has become the king of looking adversity in the face, and laughing at it. They have dealt with more drama on and off the ice in the past three seasons than any other NHL team. From Marty St Louis, to Stamkos (injuries and contracts), to Drouin and everything in between. They are extremely well versed in taking lemons and making lemonade. The biggest reason is because they have the personnel to adapt and play any style of game that is thrown at them, whether it be run and gun or a trap. The key for them is to decide which way they want to play and make the other team play that way as well. If they can do that, they will continue to have success.
If the Lightning ____________, they’ll advance to the third round.
As cliche as it sounds, if TB wins the special teams index battle, that is, PP success rate plus PK success rate, they should win the series. TB is statistically a much better 5 on 5 team than the Isles, so if that remains constant, the special teams are where the Isles have a chance to even things out.
Prediction time! The __________ will defeat the ____________ in _____________ games.
It’s going to be a closer series than a lot of experts seem to think. If Stralman comes back sooner rather than later it’s a huge boost to the TB defense and shutting Tavares down. But I think TB has a big advantage in coaching and in net and those will prove to be the difference. I’ll take TB in 6.