The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading back to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in six years. The Lightning beat the Boston Bruins four games to one to put themselves back in the conference final.
The New York Islanders are making their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 1993. The Islanders got here by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in a tough seven-game series four games to three.
The Islanders were the most dominant team of the late seventies and early eighties playing in five straight Wales Conference Finals from 1979-1984. The islanders also won the Stanley Cup four consecutive seasons from 1980-1983.
The Lightning is back in the conference finals for the first time since 2018 when they lost to the Washington Capitals in seven games. The Capitals went on to win their first Stanley Cup that year coached by Barry Trotz.
Trotz is the coach of the New York Islanders now, and the Islanders play the same type of game that the Capitals did during their cup winning season.
The Islanders, the sixth seed for the playoffs, beat the Florida Panthers three games to one, the Washington Capitols four games to one, and the Philadelphia Flyers four games to three to earn this matchup with the Lightning.
The Islanders play a game where they like to clog the middle of the ice, force everything to the outside and make it extremely difficult to move the puck.
The Columbus Blue Jackets under John Tortorella play the same style of hockey, and the Lightning disposed of the Jackets in five games.
This is a Lightning team on a mission after their embarrassing first-round defeat last year to Columbus in the first round. The Lightning has matched both the Blue Jackets and the Bruins in their physical style of play and overall speed.
Whatever style the Bruins played against this team, the Lightning was able to match up successfully.
The Lightning will be without their captain Steven Stamkos for the series. Jon Cooper spoke to the media earlier today and said he would let everyone know if there was any change forthcoming. Cooper said Stamkos did skate today but offered no other information.
Nikita Kucherov will play in game one. Kucherov took a stick to the face in game five of the clinching series win against the Bruins. Kucherov is a key piece of this Lightning team. Kucherov is second on the team on scoring with four goals, 12 assists, and 16 points.
Defensemen Jan Rutta will also be ready to go for game one.
The Lightning is pretty healthy going into the series except for the Stamkos injury.
The big concern for the Lightning is the six-day lay-off between their last game and game one of the finals on Monday night.
The Lightning did have two good practice sessions late last week. Cooper said the intensity was better than he anticipated after a long lay-off. This lay-off could work to their advantage as well. It gave the team some time to relax, take a mental break, and heal the bumps and bruises.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been in goal for every minute of every playoff game this season. Vasilevskiy has shown no signs of wear and tear posting a 10-3 record with a 1.91 goals-against average, and a .931 save percentage.
The islanders have given Semyon Varlamov seventy-five percent of the work in the playoffs. Varlamov has a 9-4 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage during the playoffs.
Thomas Greiss is 2-1 in the playoffs with a 1.08 goals-against average.
The line of Braydon Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat continues to be the best in the playoffs as they have scored 43 points. This line has tallied 15 goals and 28 assists.
Victor Hedman leads the Lightning defensemen in scoring with nine points.
The Lightning have gotten contributions from everyone up and down the line-up. Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli, all have contributed in some fashion.
Carter Verhaeghe and Mitchell Stephens have also contributed throughout the playoffs.
Josh Bailey leads the Islanders with 17 points followed by Anthony Beauviller who leads the Islanders with eight goals during the playoffs.
This should be another great series.
But this seems to be the Lightning’s year. They are on a mission, rebound quickly from adversity, and have improved their mental toughness from last season’s playoff collapse.
The Lightning will not be beaten physically. Both teams will earn everything they get in this series. Nothing will be easy.
At the end of the day, the Lightning is the more talented, has the better goaltending, and will not shy away from a physical game as they did in the past.
I like the Lightning in six games to beat the Islanders and move on to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the 2015 season.