The New York Islanders might win the Stanley Cup.
If you had said those words a month ago you were likely getting laughed out of a socially-distanced bar.
Now? It’s not that far-fetched to think so.
This isn’t a prisoner-of-the-moment situation where I’m losing my mind over the Islanders’ 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in their second round series Monday. It’s a memorandum of understanding that the Islanders are just that good.
As of Tuesday, the Islanders have played a grand total of 10 playoff games and are 8-2 in that stretch. Dispatching the Florida Panthers in four games was expected. What they did against the Washington Capitals? That’s where the money lies.
The New York Islanders have given up 6 five on five goals and 15 goals total in their 10 playoff games so far pic.twitter.com/WufCUj5ylA
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) August 25, 2020
The Islanders have allowed a league-low 1.50 goals per game in the postseason. Goaltending and defense have long been calling cards for coach Barry Trotz. Lest we forget it was two years ago he rode that wave — along with Alex Ovechkin and company — to the Stanley Cup.
This Islanders team might not have an Ovechkin-type name, but it’s a collective group that can punch you in the mouth defensively and scare you offensively.
New York has only one double-digit point scorer, and it’s not who you’d expect. Josh Bailey’s 10 points are primarily buoyed by his team-leading eight assists. Their leading goal scorer with six is Anthony Beauvillier, who had 18 all of this season.
The engine on offense is run, however, by Mat Barzal, arguably the third-most exciting skater in the league behind Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon. His point total isn’t where it was when he won the Calder Trophy in 2018, but under Trotz, he’s slowly becoming a solid two-way center with an emphasis on speed.
But where the Islanders are separating themselves from the other teams in the Eastern Conference, of course under a team coached by Trotz, is goaltending. And if the Islanders are going to make a run at the Stanley Cup, having Semyon Varlamov continue to produce at a Conn Smythe level is going to be paramount.
Varlamov and Thomas Greiss split time during the regular season, but given the unorthodox ploy of these playoffs, it’s been Varlamov’s crease. He’s pitched consecutive shutouts — Game 5 against Washington and Game 1 against the Flyers. His 1.50 goals-against average and stellar .941 save percentage are far and away the best marks in the postseason.
Put this into perspective; Varlamov has allowed 15 goals these playoffs. That’s about average for some other starting goalies like Robin Lehner and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Varlamov has played three more games than Lehner, one more than Vasilevskiy. He’s been up to the task each time called upon.
The Islanders aren’t the media darlings like some of the other teams in the field, but if there’s one thing they can get in these times, it’s quality coaching and solid defensive play. That’s why they’re such an easy pick over Philadelphia the rest of the way, and that’s why they could stand up to Boston or Tampa Bay in an Eastern Conference Final matchup.
Do not underestimate the Islanders. They’re not even going to be favored in this series until they’re on the brink of taking out the top-seeded Flyers. They keep it up like they did in Game 1, and Long Island is going to party hard.
Golden Knights vs. Canucks: Tuesday’s Game 2 is going to say a lot about how this pick goes for Game 3, but if it’s any indication like Game 1, Vegas is in control of this series. The Knights put on a forechecking clinic in Game 1, and the Canucks are on the same bit of rest as Dallas. Look how that’s turning out. GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Avalanche vs. Stars: Speaking of Dallas, the offense has risen and so help everyone involved if Dallas is back. Their 2-0 lead on Colorado has been the biggest eye-opener so far. By this point, Dallas will be up 3-0 or 2-1, but nevertheless, injuries may have caught up to the Avalanche. Pavel Francouz needs to play at his best for Colorado to have a chance. STARS
Last week: 0-2