Breakdown: Lightning vs. Islanders
Updated: April 21, 2004, 2:30 PM ETBy Bill Clement | Special to ESPN.com
This is not a typical No. 1 vs. No. 8 series. The Lightning won 42 games and the Islanders 38, so this series is much more evenly-matched than a normal 1-8 matchup. Tampa's top six forwards are better than New York's, led by MVP candidate Martin St. Louis. The Lightning also has a very slight edge in goals for and goals against.
Martin St. Louis
All eyes will be on St. Louis to see if he can continue his offensive excellence after winning the regular-season scoring title.
If this is not the year Yashin has the best playoff performance of his career, the Islanders have no chance.
Both Dave Andreychuk and Cory Stillman have at least 10 power play goals for the Lightning, and Andreychuk is one of the best clutch power-play scorers in the history of the NHL. Also consider that the Islanders will be without Jason Blake, a major part of their penalty killing unit with his four shorthanded goals.
The numbers might say the Isles have an advantage, but Tampa is the least-penalized team in the NHL so it's hard to gain much of an advantage against the Lightning with the power play. It's hard to give the edge to either team because Tampa is hardly ever in the box anyway.
Nikolai Khabibulin is playoff-tested and ready to go. No doubt he gets the advantage over 22-year-old Rick DiPietro.
The Lightning's John Tortorella proved during the regular season what he is capable of doing, having built upon the success Tampa had last season. On the other side, New York's Steve Stirling has never coached an NHL playoff game and he will not realize how much the pressure increases until he does.
The Islanders kind of limped into the playoffs and are just lying in the weeds, and that should scare the Lightning. The element of surprise might be on New York's side, and when you combine that with the expectations Tampa is facing as the top team in the east the pressure becomes an advantage for the underdogs.
Tampa Bay in five.