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Lightning vs. Islanders Stanley Cup Semifinal preview

Defending champion Tampa Bay to be challenged by New York for second straight postseason

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features four teams in two best-of-7 series, which start Sunday.

Today, previews the Stanley Cup Semifinals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.


Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

Lightning: 4-1 to win Stanley Cup Second Round against No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes; 4-2 to win Stanley Cup First Round against No. 2 Florida Panthers; 36-17-3, 75 points in regular season (third in Discover Central Division)

Islanders: 4-2 to win Stanley Cup Second Round against No. 3 Boston Bruins; 4-2 to win Stanley Cup First Round against No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins; 32-17-7, 71 points in the regular season (fourth in MassMutual East Division)

Game 1: Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS)

The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will meet in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season when they play in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

The Lightning eliminated the Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final last season before defeating the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. 

"We feel like we still have some unfinished business," New York forward Josh Bailey said.

This will be the first time the Islanders and Lightning will play each other this season; all teams were limited to playing against divisional opponents during the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

"Whether we played each other last week or last month or three months ago, it doesn't really matter," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us."

This is the fifth time in seven seasons the Lightning have advanced past the second round. They got here this season by defeating the Florida Panthers in six games and the Carolina Hurricanes in five. Andrei Vasilevskiy had a shutout in each series-clinching win. 

Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov leads the playoffs with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 11 games after not playing at all during the regular season because of hip surgery on Dec. 29, 2020.

The Lightning are first on the power play at 41.7 percent during the postseason. Kucherov has scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) on the man-advantage.

"He's a special talent and he can play the game different ways, but he just makes plays at high rates of speed," Cooper said. "Can you make plays under duress and really make a power play go? Then, the big X-factor for me is, [can you] get big goals at big moments? He seems to check all those boxes."

The Islanders advanced past the second round in back-to-back seasons for the first time since they reached the Stanley Cup Final in five consecutive seasons from 1980-84. They haven't gotten that far since.

New York feels it played its most complete game of each series in these playoffs in Game 6. Each time was its first chance to clinch after being down 2-1.

"We've got a group of guys that have been together quite a while and we've added some key pieces," Bailey said, "and when you get into these high-intensity situations and guys just keep showing up for one another it just builds a bond. 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."

Video: NHL Tonight on the Lightning moving on past Carolina


Game breakers

Lightning: Brayden Point is tied for the playoff lead with eight goals, including five on the power play. The center has scored 12 points in 11 games after scoring 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 23 playoff games last season; he has scored 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) in 55 NHL postseason games. Cooper has called Point one of those players who can "do big things in big moments and the moment is not too big for him." He's a game-breaker because his speed matches his skill. He breaks down opposing forechecks and routinely gains a step on defenseman to generate breakaways or odd-man rushes. 

Islanders: Mathew Barzal had a four-game point streak and three-game goal streak end in a series-ending 6-2 win against the Bruins on Wednesday. The center scored six points (three goals, three assists) in Games 2-5, including the game-winning goal in Game 4, a 4-1 win that allowed New York to even the series. There are times when Barzal gets limited minutes, as he did in Game 6 against the Bruins, playing 17 shifts totaling 10:58. He can slump at times, as he did going without a goal in the first eight playoff games. But when he breaks out, he's New York's most dangerous forward and often the first player the opposition thinks about shutting down.



Lightning: Vasilevskiy had a 29-save shutout in a 2-0 series-ending win in Game 5 against the Hurricanes. He has a shutout in his past three series-clinching wins, including 2-0 against the Stars in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last season. Vasilevskiy is 8-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, allowing two goals or fewer in six of his 11 starts. He was 31-10-1 with a 2.21 GAA, .925 save percentage and five shutouts during the regular season. Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL in 2018-19.

Islanders: New York has used Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin during the playoffs. Varlamov was the goalie who helped it eliminate Boston, winnng four of the final five games with a 2.26 GAA and .934 save percentage (12 goals on 181 shots). Sorokin was arguably the biggest reason the Islanders eliminated the Penguins. He made 39 saves in a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 before Varlamov lost Games 2 and 3. Sorokin won Games 4-6 with a 1.79 GAA and .949 save percentage (six goals on 117 shots). New York is comfortable with either goalie and could use each in the series.

Video: NYI@BOS, Gm2: Varlamov thwarts Krejci at the doorstep


Numbers to know

Lightning: They are 41.7 percent on the power play (15-for-36) after going 7-for-16 against the Hurricanes, including 6-for-11 in the final three games. … They were 85.7 percent (12-for-14) on the penalty kill against Carolina, which had the No. 2 power play in the regular season (25.6 percent). … Tampa Bay is 8-1 in games when it has the lead going into the third period during the playoffs after going 26-0-0 in the regular season and 10-0 in the playoffs last season. The Lightning have a plus-8 goal differential in the second period this postseason (19-11).

Islanders: They haven't had a lead after the first period in any game this postseason but are 7-1 in games tied going into the intermission largely because they have outscored the opposition 18-8 in the second period. … New York has been outshot in nine of its 12 playoff games but is 6-3 in those games. … The Islanders have 25 playoff wins under coach Barry Trotz in the past three seasons, third in the NHL behind the Lightning and Bruins. New York has played 42 playoff games since 2019, second behind Boston (48).



Lightning: Mikhail Sergachev plays a similar role as defenseman Victor Hedman, albeit with fewer minutes and in less prominent spots. Sergachev is averaging 22:06 per game in the playoffs, third on the Lightning; Hedman is averaging a Tampa Bay-high 24:48. Sergachev plays on the rarely used second power play; Hedman quarterbacks the highly effective first unit. Sergachev is playing 1:59 per game shorthanded; Hedman is playing 2:01. Sergachev, Hedman and defenseman Ryan McDonagh each have 22 blocked shots, tied for the Tampa Bay lead. Sergachev had a Lightning-high five blocked shots in Game 5 against Carolina. He does everything well, like Hedman, and gives the third defense pair similar characteristics to its top pair.

Islanders: Brock Nelson has played his best in the biggest games. The center scored two goals and had an assist in Game 6 against the Penguins, helping the Islanders win 5-3 to close out the series. He scored the winning goal in Game 5 against Boston, a 5-4 victory that gave New York the series lead. In Game 6, Nelson scored two goals 7:19 apart in the second period to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. They won 6-2 to end the series. He has scored 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 12 games after scoring 18 points (nine goals, nine assists), including three game-winning goals in 22 postseason games last season. He is averaging 0.83 points per game in these playoffs, up from 0.59 points per game during the regular season.

Video: DAL@TBL: Sergachev scores in 3rd period


They said it

"In the playoffs it's obviously a different season and it has to be a different effort. I think last year and this year so far we've been doing that pretty consistent. We'll have to keep up the same way. It takes everybody to win a playoff game. It can't be just one or two guys on the team. All the guys they have to play, they have to give the best effort every night." -- Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy

"We will get a shot to go against the champs again. I just watched them close out Carolina, that's a good hockey team right now and a very dangerous power play, obviously. 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." -- Islanders coach Barry Trotz


Will win if…

Lightning: It's hard to see them losing if their power play continues to succeed at a near 42 percent clip. Tampa Bay is content playing it even at 5-on-5 if its power play continues to be this effective. It had a strong penalty kill against Carolina too, which made its success on the power play matter even more. The Lightning need to keep getting contributions from all four forward lines, as they have in the first two rounds. And they will need to stay healthy; they have lost eight man-games to injury in the playoffs but enter the Cup Semifinals at full strength.

Islanders: In addition to excellent goaltending and strong depth, New York must remain the least penalized team in the NHL to have a chance. The Islanders' penalty kill has struggled so far at 61.5 percent (16-for-26). But remaining disciplined gives them a chance to make this a 5-on-5 series and potentially gives their power play a chance to be difference-maker. New York has been shorthanded 38:38 total in the postseason, an average of 3:13 per game, the lowest among playoff teams. Its power play is 28.1 percent (9-for-32).


How they look

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat -- Brayden Point -- Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn -- Anthony Cirelli -- Steven Stamkos

Yanni Gourde -- Barclay Goodrow -- Blake Coleman

Ross Colton -- Tyler Johnson -- Pat Maroon

Victor Hedman -- Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh -- Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev -- David Savard

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Alex Barre-Boulet, Mitchell Stephens, Daniel Walcott, Fredrik Claesson, Cal Foote, Mathieu Joseph, Luke Schenn, Ben Thomas, Christopher Gibson

Injured: None


Islanders projected lineup

Leo Komarov -- Mathew Barzal -- Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier -- Brock Nelson -- Josh Bailey

Kyle Palmieri -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Travis Zajac

Matt Martin -- Casey Cizikas -- Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech -- Ryan Pulock

Nick Leddy -- Scott Mayfield

Andy Greene -- Noah Dobson

Semyon Varlamov

Ilya Sorokin

Scratched: Cole Bardreau, Kieffer Bellows, Austin Czarnik, Anatoli Golyshev, Simon Holmstrom, Ross Johnston, Otto Koivula, Dmytro Timashov, Sebastian Aho, Samuel Bolduc, Braydon Coburn, Thomas Hickey, Grant Hutton, Bode Wilde, Ken Appleby, Cory Schneider

Injured: Michael Dal Colle (undisclosed), Oliver Wahlstrom (lower body)

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