The Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the second consecutive year with a 4-0 win against the New York Islanders in Game 5 of the second round at Amalie Arena on Sunday.
It is Tampa Bay's third time in the conference final since 2011. They will face the winner of the best-of-7 series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals; Pittsburgh leads 3-2 with Game 6 at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Here are 5 reasons the Lightning advanced:
1. TEAM DEFENSE
The Lightning limited the Islanders to one goal in the final two games and put the clamps on New York's top line of Brock Nelson, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo for much of the series. Tavares (one goal, one assist) was held without a point for the final four games. Okposo had a goal and an assist, and Nelson had two assists, each in Game 1, for the series. New York scored five goals in Game 1, a 5-3 win, but had six the rest of the series.
Defenseman Victor Hedman led the charge and did it without Anton Stralman, who is recovering from a left-leg fracture, and without Matthew Carle for two games, forcing Lightning coach Jon Cooper to go deep on the bench to get contributions from defensemen with little or no Stanley Cup Playoff experience (Luke Witkowski, Matt Taormina and Slater Koekkoek). Regardless of who was in the defensive lineup, they kept the Islanders off the scoreboard.
"If you want to give yourself a chance to win, you have to keep their best players from being their best players," Cooper said. "For the most part of this series, if we were going to have a chance to win, we had to neutralize [Tavares]."
2. SECONDARY SCORING
After the line of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scored 10 of the the Lightning's 12 goals in the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Detroit Red Wings, many questioned whether Tampa Bay could find additional scoring. In the second round, Cooper reunited the "Triplets" line by replacing Killorn with Ondrej Palat; he put Killorn with Jonathan Drouin and Valtteri Filppula to balance the attack. It worked better than expected, and Drouin scored his first career NHL playoff goal, the game-winner in Game 2.
Vladislav Namestnikov and Brian Boyle provided scoring from the third and fourth lines. Boyle scored the overtime winner in Game 3.
Even the defensemen got in the act. Hedman had four goals, and Jason Garrison scored in overtime of Game 4.
Kucherov scored four goals in the series and has nine in 10 playoff games to lead the NHL.
Bishop had a rough start to the series, giving up four goals in Game 1 and being replaced by Andrei Vasilevskiy midway through the second period. The Vezina Trophy finalist had a .948 save percentage the rest of the series, including a 28-save shutout in Game 5. Four of Bishop's five career NHL playoff shutouts have come in series-clinching games, tying him with Martin Brodeur and Jacques Plante for second all-time behind Chris Osgood's five, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"He's got some pretty remarkable numbers right now," Boyle said. "This whole season … he's been phenomenal for us. We've relied on him maybe too much, but it's a good situation for us to have him playing at his best."
4. LATE-GAME HEROICS
The Lightning outscored the Islanders 9-3 in the third period and overtime. Tampa Bay trailed in the third period of Games 3 and 4, but Kucherov scored the game-tying goal in each, and the Lightning eventually won in overtime. This was a tighter series than the result indicates, and the difference was the Lightning making plays in the third period and overtime.
"I think we wanted to be strong late and stay aggressive," Kucherov said. "Keep shooting and trying to get to the net and keep pressure on them."
5. PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE
The Lightning played in 26 of 28 possible playoff games last year before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six in the Stanley Cup Final. The lessons they learned from that run have helped them better capitalize on opportunities this year.
The Lightning have closed out each of their opponents early, earning them extra rest and giving injured players like Stralman and forwards Steven Stamkos, J.T. Brown and Erik Condra additional time to recover and return to the ice.
"I think we learned from last year," Bishop said. "We had a couple of series where we had chances to close it out at home and we let them slip. So I said last series I really want to take pride in closing teams out, and we've done it two series in a row."