It has been a season to forget for the Islanders. Once regarded as Stanley Cup contenders, New York have struggled to inspire confidence and they are still rooted to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. Changes may be afoot in the Big Apple during the offseason and fans will be demanding a much-improved campaign in 2018/19.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs. With 13 Stanley Cup wins, they are the second-most successful team in National Hockey League history and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Mike Babcock’s side secure number 14 in the coming months. Write Toronto off at your peril…
The Maple Leafs are full of confidence going into this contest and plenty of punters will be backing the visitors to win here. Currently valued at 14/1 with 888sport to go on and win ice hockey’s ultimate prize, Toronto will be looking to make a statement ahead of the playoffs. A convincing win will send a message to their postseason rivals.
Tavares Can’t Do It All On His Own
The Islanders have relied on John Tavares this year; you cannot afford to do that at this elite level. New York must act effectively and astutely in free agency and during the trade season in order to ensure a more competitive team next season.
We may be doing a slight disservice to Mathew Barzal – he has also had a quietly solid year on the whole. With 78 points, he has more or less matched Tavares in terms of production and the Islanders will need both men to be at their brilliant best in this particular fixture.
KEY MAN: Mathew Barzal. We’ll go with Barzal in this clash; he arguably has more to prove ahead of free agency. The Islanders will want to keep Barzal on the roster but he could be deemed surplus to requirements if a decent enough trade offer comes in.
At the time of writing, he leads the team in assists with 58 and Islanders fans will be hoping that both he and Tavares can perform well on home ice. With five assists in as many games, Barzal is in decent form and he could inspire New York to a confidence-boosting victory.
Maple Leafs Rewriting The History Books
Toronto set a new team record for wins in a single season AND wins on home ice last week and confidence is soaring at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs, arguably one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL, are right in the mix for Stanley Cup glory and avoiding injuries is their primary objective now.
Would you bet against Toronto at this moment in time? Probably not. Postseason success beckons if everything goes to plan for this talented Maple Leafs roster.
KEY MAN: Auston Matthews. Matthews has recorded one point or more in each of his last five games – an incredible run of form. After missing a large part of the campaign, he heads into the playoffs relatively fresh and he could be Toronto’s difference maker.
Mitchell Marner may feel a little hard done by; and rightly so. He currently leads the Maple Leafs in points but we cannot ignore Matthews’ recent run. Expect big things from Toronto this weekend, particularly if their main man is firing on all cylinders.
Not necessarily an exciting encounter in terms of goal-mouth action but this should be a fascinating affair. Toronto have the tools needed to go far in the playoffs whilst New York are focusing on the future. With that in mind, the Maple Leafs are the pick here.
ISLANDERS 1-3 MAPLE LEAFS