The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the conference semi-finals for the third time in four seasons under Jon Cooper. And for the third time, they will be facing a Barry Trotz-coached team that has given the Lightning fits every time they have met.
The Lightning had a 3-2 series lead in 2018 on the Washington Capitals, a team coached by Barry Trotz that would win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals won the last two games in that series to win it four games to three.
Last season the Lightning met the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated the Islanders four games to two.
Although the Lightning and the Islanders did not play this season, they know each other well from their matchups in previous seasons.
This is the second consecutive season that the Lightning and the Islanders have met to determine who gets to play for the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning are 12-4 against the Islanders all-time in the playoffs. The Lightning has defeated the Islanders three times in the playoffs in 2004, 2016, and 2020.
The Islanders were the last team to qualify for the playoffs in the East Division. The Islanders finished the season 32-17-7 behind Washington, Pittsburgh, and Boston. But since the playoffs have started, they have been one of the more dominant teams left in the playoffs.
No lead is safe against this New York team. The Islanders trailed Pittsburgh and Boston two games to one and came back in both series to win it four games to two.
Jon Cooper is his Thursday session with the media, talked about the series and how familiar these teams are with one another.
“The goalies are the same. For the most part, they’ve probably got more pieces together than we do, but it would be very similar. Their D corps is primarily the same. And we’re very similar as well. Two teams that know each other, whether we played each other last week or last month or three months ago, it doesn’t really matter. We know what to expect from them, and they know what to expect from us.”
The Lightning comes into the series about as healthy as you can be for this time of year. The islanders are missing defenseman Anders Lee who has been out all season with a torn ACL.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz has nothing but respect for the defending champs. “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.”
The Islanders gave the Lightning the toughest challenge in last year’s Stanley Cup run, taking the Lightning to six games after the Bolts took out Columbus and Boston in five games.
Jon Cooper talked about how good this Islanders team is. “They have a bevy of talent there, and they have a coach that pushes them all in the right direction, and that’s why they’re good. You have to have some talent on your roster to win, and they have it. They’ve got it all going in the right direction, and they have a general manager there that knows how to win as well and gets all the right pieces. I don’t think there should be any surprise that the Islanders are where they are year after year.”
The Lightning will have the home-ice advantage in this series and will open up Sunday at 3 PM.
The Lightning has three players that have put themselves into the conversation for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy is having the best playoffs of his career with two shutouts, and a .934 save percentage. Vasilevskiy is also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goaltender in the NHL.
Kucherov leads the league in postseason scoring with 18 points and has brought life to the Lightning power play, which was dormant most of the season.
Victor Hedman has anchored the blue line this postseason and leads the Lightning in ice time at just over 24 minutes a game. Hedman has dished out 11 assists in this postseason and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the fifth time in his career.
The other factor that will come into play in this series is the Lightning power play. The Lightning leads the league in postseason power-play goals connecting on 15/38 chances for 39 percent. Neither Florida nor Carolina has had an answer on how to shut down the Bolts power play.
The Islanders have gotten burned on the penalty kill this postseason giving up ten short-handed goals in 26 penalty kill attempts.
The Lightning are 3-2 on home ice in the postseason and 5-1 away from Amalie Arena.
This is a series the Lightning should win and move on to their fourth Stanley Cup final in franchise history.
The Bolts’ have some considerable advantages in this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy, the lethal power play, and the home-ice edge.
It will be a competitive series. The Islanders will bring it every game. But the Lightning can beat you at any style of game you want to play. The Islanders cannot.
The Lightning will win this series in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive season.