The Islanders have played the Lightning even for much of the series. If not for a pair of bad mistakes by defenseman Eric Cairns, New York could have won Game 1. The Lightning's quick-strike offense, silent for most of the first two games, broke out in a big way in Game 3, shifting the series toward Tampa Bay. Each of the first three games ended with a final score of 3-0.
SURPRISE OF THE SERIES
That the Islanders were taken out of Game 3 -- their first playoff home game of the year -- so quickly and thoroughly. New York was 25-11-14-1 at Nassau Coliseum during the regular season (the most home victories of any Eastern Conference team) and was coming off a confidence-building Game 2 win. Yet after goals by Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis in the first seven minutes of Game 3, the Islanders were done.
THE LIGHTNING WIN IF ...
They can get an early lead. With Nikolai Khabibulin playing solidly in goal, the Lightning are very tough to come back on. They really like to sit back on a lead, and are one of the few teams who do it well. Tampa Bay also needs Richards and St. Louis to keep producing.
THE ISLANDERS WIN IF ...
They don't fall behind early, they win Game 4 at home and they continue to press on the forecheck as they have all series. If Alexei Yashin (he had just one shot on goal in Game 3) can come to life offensively, the Islanders would get a huge lift. They need him or Michael Peca to take over for a little while to ease the pressure on the other forwards. Peca can change the vibe of game with a big hit on one of the Lightning's top forwards.
The Islanders, with goalie Rick DiPietro playing well enough to win, still seem primed for an upset. They'll rally to win the series.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.