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Special Teams Key for Isles-Bolts Series

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

Power plays don’t come often in the playoffs, and their rarity gives them even more importance.

The Islanders know first-hand that a productive power play can send a team to the next round, while a cold power play can send them home.

Case in point, the Islanders went 0-for-14 in a first-round exit against the Washington Capitals in 2015, but 5-for-21 en route to beating the Florida Panthers in six games. The power play came through in the biggest moments, as the Islanders scored on the man advantage in overtime in Game 3 and in double-overtime in Game 5.

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Three of the last six goals the Islander scored against the Panthers — going back to Thomas Hickey’s OT winner in Game 3 — came on the power play. A fourth came with the Islanders skating 6-on-5 in the final minutes of Game 6, leaving them with two even-strength goals since the third period of Game 3.

“We want to have some good puck movement,” said John Tavares, who had a power-play goal in Game 4. “We want to make it difficult to defend, hard to cover shooting lanes and passing lanes. Obviously when you have the man advantage you’ll have an open area somewhere so you want to exploit it as best we can.”

To advance past the Lightning, the Islanders will have to keep the power play going, but that’s no easy task. Tampa Bay killed off 24-of-25 minors in five games against Detroit, the top mark in the first round.

“It sounds so simple, just shoot the puck and get the puck to the net, but you have to get it there,” Tavares said. “Teams do a good job of closing it up and certainly they had a lot of success in the first round.”

Tampa Bay’s success isn’t an outlier. The Lightning had the seventh-best penalty kill in the regular season, killing at an 84% clip. One of the six teams with a better PK in the regular season: the Islanders.

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The Islanders finished with the fourth-best shorthanded unit, killing off 84.5% of penalties in the regular season and an additional 13-of-15 in the first round. Josh Bailey’s upper-body injury aside, the Islanders’ penalty killing corps – Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, Nikolay Kulemin, Frans Nielsen and Brock Nelson – is relatively intact.

Despite having a host of sharpshooters – Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman and Valtteri Filppula – on their power play during the regular season, the Lightning finished 28th overall, scoring on 15.8% of man advantages.

 

The Lightning power play has improved in the postseason – surprisingly without Stamkos – going 4-of-23 against the Red Wings (17.3%).

Looking back at the regular season, the Islanders had a sizable special teams edge in head-to-head matchups with the Lightning, going 3-of-7 on the power play (including a 2-of-2 in a 3-2 win on Nov. 28) and a perfect 11-of-11 on the penalty kill in three meetings.

If the Islanders want to advance past the Bolts, they’ll be looking for their special teams to continue their strong play from the first round and continue to strike against the Lightning.

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