Time to get reacquainted.
For the second-straight year, and as fate would have it, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning will clash in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders enter the semifinal matchup having advanced out of the cutthroat East Division by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins (first round) and Boston Bruins (second round), both in six games.
Now, they have their work cut out for them as they take on the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Lightning, who victoriously battled out of the Central Division by eliminating the Florida Panthers in six games in the first round and the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the second round as they look to repeat cup titles.
The Islanders, arguably more than the other remaining teams - Vegas and Montreal - still alive in the playoffs, understand, and respect, the challenge in facing the Tampa after having their 2020 Eastern Conference Final run in the Edmonton bubble halted on Anthony Cirelli's series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6.
Video: A discussion on the Eastern Conference Finals matchup
With another chance to take on Tampa Bay, and advance to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final since 1984, this determined Islanders group is eager for the task ahead.
"We're excited for the challenge," Matt Martin said. "It was a hard-fought series last year and we came up short. The feeling amongst the team was that it was the hardest offseason that we were a part of just because of how close we were to accomplishing our goal. We're excited to have another opportunity at them. We know how good they are. They're the defending champs. To get to where we want to go we've gotta get through them."
Despite the oddity of this year's 56-game regular season with only intradivisional play, it wasn't a guarantee that the Islanders and Lightning could face each other in the same position as they did in ECF last year, but it worked out that way.
It'll be the first time either club faces a team outside of its division for the first time since their ECF meeting last September, as the Lightning defeated Dallas in the Stanley Cup Final and Dallas was subsequently placed in the Central Division with them this year. That said, there's a little more familiarity with a team the Isles played a six-game series against in September, compared to one they haven't seen since March 2020.
"It helps with some of the pre-scout. Most of our players played in that series so they understand when we're talking about certain trends or the way they play," Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "When you play a team at the start of the season, the first game is an acquaintance of all the things that you knew about them. Then, it goes into all of those little adjustments and that. The first game, you have an understanding, but you'll get a feel for the tone of how they're playing."
Video: 6/11: Lamoriello & Trotz
Both sides plan to analyze the six-game series last September and take into consideration the differences of where each respective squad is at in their game and style now, nine months later.
For the Islanders, the outcome was obviously not ideal, but there was a lot to like about their game and fight especially as the series came down to the wire. With their backs against the wall and down 3-1 in the series in a decisive Game 5, the Islanders won 2-1 in overtime to force Game 6 and nearly forced a game seven, as Brock Nelson was denied on a shorthanded breakaway in OT.
And despite the outlier of Game 1's 8-2 rout by Tampa, where the Islanders were less than 48 hours removed from an emotional Game 7 win over Philadelphia immediately followed by a cross-country flight from Edmonton to Toronto, the remaining games in the series were close and the Islanders scored the first goal in all of them from Game 2-6. Games 2, 5 and 6 were all decided by one goal.
"As the series went on we were getting better and we were getting more dangerous," Trotz said. "We were doing all the things that we said we were going to do. We ran out of runway in my opinion."
Video: Four teams are set to compete in Cup Semifinals
While both teams returned the majority of the same personnel and will draw upon the experience and familiarity dating back to last September, both sides are prepared for this tilt to be an entirely new and unique series of its own.
And for the Islanders, one that hopefully, scripts a different ending.
"They're going to be a little bit different than they were last year and we're going to be a little bit different than we were last year," Trotz said. "Even though it's not even been a complete year since we played them, they're going to be a little bit different. We'll find out when we get there.
Afterall, this is exactly where the Islanders have wanted to be. Since they departed from the Edmonton bubble at the hands of the Lightning last season empty-handed and dissatisfied, they've made it their committed mission to go the full distance with their next opportunity.
"Coming into this season, we expected to be back here," Martin said. "It doesn't always work out that way because there's a lot of good teams in this league. As much as everyone has made us underdogs or thought maybe last year was fluky, in our minds, we always thought from the beginning that we were going to have another shot at this. Now, with four teams left our job is to go out there and finish the job. Our goal is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of that is disappointing."