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Lightning to play Islanders in Stanley Cup Semifinals

Tampa Bay defeated Carolina, New York eliminated Boston

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Tampa Bay Lightning will play the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

New York eliminated the Boston Bruins with a 6-2 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Wednesday. The Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round.

"We've talked zero about Tampa Bay, zero," New York coach Barry Trotz said. "We started out this journey to beat Pittsburgh. We were able to do that and then we focused in on Boston. We will get a shot to go against the champs again."

Tampa Bay defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the second round and the Florida Panthers in six games in the first round.

"But this is not the end goal," Tampa Bay forward Brayden Point said. "There's still so much work to be done. We can't get too high here. We've got to have some good practice days and wait for our next opponent."

The Lightning defeated the Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final last season before winning the Stanley Cup against the Dallas Stars.

"If you want to win it all you've got to beat the best," New York forward Brock Nelson said. "I don't think anybody has been sitting here thinking about revenge on Tampa [Bay], just trying to take it each game, each series one at a time. Now we can turn the page and turn our focus to them. They're obviously a great team, the defending champs and here again. It'll be a good battle."

Tampa Bay will have home-ice advantage against New York in the best-of-7 series. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is Sunday.

"A big thing is experience," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We've been down this road, there's a formula in place, and you need the players to execute. I'm proud of them and I'm proud of their effort."

Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists). Steven Stamkos has scored 13 points (five goals, eight assists), Point (eight goals, four assists) and Alex Killorn (six goals, six assists) each has scored 12, and Victor Hedman has 11 assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy is 8-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

"We've got a lot of confidence in our group," Point said. "I thought we had a pretty good regular season where we were kind of building toward this. We got some guys back in our lineup that definitely helped. But it's just the belief in our group. We've got four lines and all the [defensemen] and great goaltending, so we just feel confident."

Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the Islanders with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) this postseason. Josh Bailey (five goals, six assists) and Anthony Beauvillier (four goals, seven assists) each have scored 11, and Kyle Palmieri has scored seven goals. Semyon Varlamov is 4-3 with a 2.62 GAA and .925 save percentage, and Ilya Sorokin is 4-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .934 save percentage.

"We've got a group of guys that have been together quite a while and we've added some key pieces, and when you get into these high intensity situations and guys just keep showing up for one another and it just builds a bond," Bailey said. "It's going to be no easy task. I think Tampa [Bay] has a great team, the defending Cup champs. So, it's going to be tough, but we believe in ourselves and we know we're going to need our best to find a way to take them down."

The Lightning (Discover Central Division) and Islanders (MassMutual East Division) did not play each other this season because of temporary realignment due to COVID-19.

"I just watched them close out Carolina, that's a good hockey team right now and a very dangerous power play, obviously," Trotz said. "They're hitting about 50 percent it seems like. And they've got superstar power, just like Boston does. They've got a few lines that can hurt you, and their Vezina-type goaltender. Their defense is extremely deep and their forwards are extremely deep. This will be a huge challenge for us, but we'll try to dissect it and see what we can do."

Tampa Bay lost two of three games to New York last season. Stamkos scored three points (two goals, one assist), and Point and Yanni Gourde each had a goal and an assist. Vasilevskiy was 1-1-0 with a 2.54 GAA and an .884 save percentage, and Curtis McElhinney allowed five goals on 24 shots in a 5-1 loss Dec. 9, 2019.

Bailey (two goals, three assists) and Anders Lee (two goals, three assists) led the Islanders with five points against the Lightning last season. Mathew Barzal scored three points (one goal, two assists), and Nelson scored two goals. Varlamov was 1-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA and .951 save percentage.

Tampa Bay advanced to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons and has won each of its three playoff series against New York.

"It's a great opportunity for us seeing them again in the semifinals," Beauvillier said. "I think we're taking a lot of pride in what we do, and to get back to the spot that we were last year with some unfinished business, it's a great opportunity for us. Everyone is excited in the room and we're really looking forward to it."

The Montreal Canadiens play the Vegas Golden Knights in the other semifinal. senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report

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