There was no cutting down of the nets, but for the second straight season, the Islanders have advanced to the NHL’s version of “The Final Four”. Wednesday night’s 6-2 victory over the Boston Bruins at Nassau Coliseum allowed the Islanders to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. And now, the Islanders get a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a series that the Isles lost in six games including a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime defeat in game six.
In the words of Maxine Nightingdale, the Islanders are “Right Back Where We Started From”, the song that has been played after each Isles victory this season. But now, the Islanders hope to sing a different tune against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
“We’re certainly happy to move on,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “We feel like we still have some unfinished business.”
Islanders vs Bruins (Isles win series 4-2)
Game 1…Saturday May 29th…Bruins 5 Islanders 2…
Game 2…Monday May 31st…Islanders 4 Bruins 3 (OT)…
Game 3…Thursday June 3rd…Bruins 2 Islanders 1 (OT)…
Game 4…Saturday June 5th…Islanders 4 Bruins 2…
Game 5…Monday June 7th…Islanders 5 Bruins 4…
Game 6…Wednesday June 9th…Islanders 6 Bruins 2…
The Islanders took the ice on Wednesday night knowing full well that a victory would set up another meeting with Tampa Bay. However, facing the Lightning again was never brought up because they still had to finish off the Bruins.
“We’ve talked zero about Tampa Bay,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We started out this journey to beat Pittsburgh and we were able to do that. And then, we focused in on Boston and we get a shot to go against the champs again.”
The Islanders will be facing a very talented Lightning team that needed six games to beat the Florida Panthers in the opening round before dispatching of the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in round two.
After last season’s playoff series, the Islanders are familiar with Tampa Bay’s prime-time players.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov leads all scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 18 points including a league-high 13 assists while Steven Stamkos has 13 points which has him tied for third with the Islanders Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon.
Also, Brayden Point has 12 points and is tied for the league lead in goals this post-season with 8. Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman is second in scoring among defensemen in the playoffs with 11 points.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has all eight of Tampa Bay’s playoff wins and has a 2.24 goals against average to go along with a .934 save percentage and two shutouts.
The Islanders may have channel some of their inner Ric Flair to be able to deny the Lightning of a chance to win their second straight Stanley Cup.
As the wrestling great says, “if you want to be the best…”
“You have to beat the best,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson who scored two goals including the series clincher in the win over the Bruins. “If you want to win it all you gotta beat the best. They’re obviously a great team…defending champs here again so it will be a good battle.”
So far in the playoffs, the Islanders have actually outscored the Lightning 43-38, but Tampa has been the better defensive team giving up just 26 goals while the Islanders have allowed 33. The biggest task for the Islanders will be finding a way to win the special teams battle. The Lightning power play is operating at 44% during the playoffs and Tampa Bay has killed off 77.8% of opposing power plays.
The Islanders are fully aware that they will have their work cut out for themselves against the champs.
“That’s a good hockey team right now and a very dangerous power play,” said Trotz. “They’ve got a few lines that can hurt you, a Vezina type goaltender, their defense is extremely deep and their forwards are extremely deep so this will be a huge challenge for us. We’ll try to dissect it and see what we can do.”
With the Islanders and Lightning meeting again for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final, this will be the first rematch in the NHL’s final four since the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings met in the Western Conference Final in 2013 and 2014.
This year, the Islanders are hoping to flip the script and beat the Lightning in the playoffs for the first time after losing the first three post-season meetings.
“It’s a great opportunity for us seeing them again in the semifinals,” said Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier. “We’re taking a lot of pride in what we do and I think to get back to the spot that we were with some unfinished business is a great opportunity for us.”
Before last season, the Islanders had not been one of the last four teams standing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993. Now they are there for a second straight season for the first time since 1984.
To sort of steal a line from former New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan who guided Gang Green to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2010 and 2011….
Same old Islanders…back to the NHL’s final four.
And they have some unfinished business to take care of.