We have reached the NHL Stanley Cup Semifinals with the New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final where the Lightning defeated the Islanders in six games.
The Lightning needed five games to dispatch the Carolina Hurricanes in the Central Division Final, while the Islanders needed six games of doing it the hard way to defeat the Boston Bruins in the East Division Final. The Lightning have reached this stage of the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons. Meanwhile, the Islanders are making back-to-back trips to the NHL’s final four for the first time since their dynasty years of the 1980s when they won four Stanley Cups. And they have done it using two goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.
This will be the first meeting between these two clubs this season; they have not met at all in 2021 due to the divisional format of the Covid-affected regular season. It will be interesting to see what happens when the puck drops on Sunday at 3 pm for Game 1 of the series. The winner of this series between the Islanders and Lightning will go to the Stanley Cup Final. Does history repeat itself or will the Islanders pull off another upset? Find out here.
New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning Series Preview
Lightning Offence Firing On All Cylinders
The Tampa Bay Lightning are firing on all cylinders as they reach this stage of the playoffs once again. It is no surprise the Lightning are here. Right now, they are showing exactly why they are the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
When the playoffs began the Lightning got a healthy Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back in the lineup, not to mention Ryan McDonagh on defence. Those guys have been vital to their success through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Kucherov leads all skaters in postseason scoring with 18 points (five goals and 13 assists). Right behind Kucherov is Stamkos with 13 points (five goals and eight assists) followed by Brayden Point with 12 points (eight goals and four assists). These players score timely goals when the Lightning need them the most. Players like Point, Kucherov and Stamkos put themselves in a position to score and help the team succeed.
In addition to the big three for Tampa Bay, their depth scoring is coming up big. The Islanders are facing a Lightning team that has more depth than the Bruins and Penguins combined. What’s more, Tampa Bay has run it back with practically the same team that won the Stanley Cup last season. They are getting contributions up and down the lineup. So much so that every forward has at least two points. A big surprise for them has been Ross Colton on the fourth line. Give credit to Tampa Bay management for finding these depth players and plugging them into the lineup. The Lightning is the model of success throughout its organization and at every level of professional hockey. And with Jon Cooper behind the bench, he is getting the most out of his players to make them successful.
Islanders Defence Will Be Tested Again
The Islanders stifling defence will be tested again facing this Lightning offence. The duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will be matched up against the Kucherov line. Pelech is one of the best shut-down defencemen in the league and he is coming into his own in these playoffs. While he may not get any credit for playing on the Islanders because of the style the team plays, he has shut down some of the best players throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. Pelech took on Sidney Crosby in the first round and shut him down. Then in round two, he matched up against Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak and shut them down too. The Isles first pair, especially Pelech will be tested against this Lightning offence, but that neutral zone trap is so effective.
Once the Islanders get a lead it is hard to score on them. Remind you of any team of the past? Well, general manager Lou Lamoriello had a hand in that New Jersey Devils team that won three Stanley Cups and he has built another defensive dynamo here. Ultimately, the Islanders defence is playing well. Each player knows their assignment and they play it to a tee. Andy Greene is stepping up his game alongside Noah Dobson. Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy have raised their game as well. Leddy is being reigned in by Trotz and is not taking as many chances as he used to. The Islanders have been playing the same system all year so don’t expect them to change much once this series begins. They are built for the playoffs. And with the way the Islanders play defence, they are able to create turnovers which leads to great offensive chances they can put away.
Islanders Can Score Too
Even while the Lightning may hold the edge in offensive talent, the Islanders have four lines that can score goals as well. In the last two series, everyone expected Mathew Barzal to breakout. But he only notched his first three goals of the playoffs during the Boston series, forcing the Islanders to ride their second and third lines instead. Players like Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Kyle Palmieri have all been picking up the slack. Pageau leads the Islanders in scoring with 13 points, while Palmieri leads all Islanders in goals with seven. These two recent trade acquisitions are stepping up for the Islanders in the playoffs. Not to mention Nelson, who has some of his biggest performances of the playoffs when the series is tied or in a closing situation. And of course, there is the energy line that feeds off that rockin’ crowd in Nassau Coliseum.
Special Teams Will Be Key
For New York to have any success in this series, they need to keep the game at five on five. The Lightning have the best power play in the playoffs. But the good thing for the Islanders is they are the least penalized team in the league. The Islanders were able to keep the Bruins power play at bay for the most part. They will need to do the same thing if not more so against the Lightning. After all, ill-discipline is where the Hurricanes and Panthers lost their series against Tampa.
The Islanders meanwhile have been only getting better on special teams. The penalty kill remains one of the best in the league, while their power play is improving too. That was a big key to their success against Boston. Scoring on the power play when the opportunity presented itself allowed the Islanders to get a lead and play their vaunted defensive system.
Clearly Tampa Bay holds the edge over the Islanders especially on offence and in between the pipes with Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, the Islanders have the will to win. They never get down on themselves and keep every game close. An advantage the Islanders have is the crowd of the Coliseum. It is an experience they did not have in the bubble last year. It is called Fort Never Lose for a reason. Although, the Lightning have shown they can enter any hostile environment and overcome the odds. This will be a very fun series to watch. These two teams have reached this point for a reason. The New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning series feels like it could go the distance.
Prediction: Lightning in six
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