The New York Islanders entered the playoffs as the fourth and final playoff seed in the East Division. Now, they are a win away from reaching their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984. But to do so, they'll have to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning, last year's champions, in a Game 7 on the road (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET).
To get here, the Islanders knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins in six games. They rallied in Game 6 to force Friday's decisive game. The Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers (six games) and Carolina Hurricanes (five games).
Who will be playing for the Stanley Cup? USA TODAY Sports' experts make their picks for who will win in what has become an unpredictable postseason.
Lightning 4, Islanders 2: Even with the health of star Nikita Kucherov up in the air, I cannot pick against the more talented team — and the one that will be playing at home. This series surprisingly has been more of a toss-up than I thought, with the Islanders holding a narrow edge in expected-goals for percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. I still like the chances of a team that can ride Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman and rely on Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. That is not to discount what Barry Trotz can do with this Islanders group. — Jimmy Hascup
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point has scored goals in nine games in a row. (Photo: Andy Marlin, USA TODAY Sports)
Lightning 3, Islanders 1: This is the first time the Lightning have faced an elimination game since the 2019 playoffs, but I believe their championship pedigree and playing at home will make a difference, even if Nikita Kucherov can't play. Anthony Cirelli fit in well on the top line after Kucherov went out and Brayden Point is on a nine-game goal streak. Vasilevskiy has been clutch. The key for the Islanders will be the coaching of Barry Trotz, who won a Game 7 in Tampa when he led the Washington Capitals to the 2018 title. — Mike Brehm
Lightning 3, Islanders 1: The health of Nikita Kucherov is a major concern, but I think the home team gets it done in Game 7 even if their leading scorer can't go or is extremely compromised. In Game 5 in Tampa, the Lightning blitzed the Islanders 8-0 while outshooting them 42-21. That disparity certainly makes it seem like the Lightning figured out how to get favorable matchups in their home barn. Though I would expect a much stouter game from Barry Trotz's Islanders than what they showed in their last trip to Tampa, I think the rest of the Lightning's top-end talent will step up and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will shut the door. — Jace Evans
Islanders 3, Lightning 2: As much as an Islanders upset seems unlikely, I trust Barry Trotz’s track record. Tampa Bay isn’t typically a team that drops two games in a row, but Trotz took the 2018 Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup after beating the Lightning in back-to-back games. Tampa Bay still has one of the best rosters in the NHL, and Point is eying that 10-game scoring streak. But Trotz knows what it takes to get past the Lightning, and he has enough options in his own locker room to do it. — Alyssa Hertel
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