For the fourth time in six seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in the Eastern Conference Final. This time out, they’re set to face the New York Islanders – a team that hasn’t been in this position since 1993.
This is the second time in five seasons the Lightning have met the Islanders, but it’s definitely the first time ever they’ve faced against each other in Edmonton at Rogers Place. The fun is over for the Toronto bubble as both clubs head out West.
Game One of the Eastern Conference Final takes place Monday.
This is the first time Tampa has played in about a week. They advanced to the Final after defeating the Boston Bruins in five games and have had time to adjust to the time change in Edmonton, while the Islanders needed seven games to knock off the Philadelphia Flyers.
“This will be a real good test,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Sunday. “The Lightning have been off for a little bit, they’re fresh, they’ve been waiting for our series to end. They went to Edmonton yesterday, they probably practiced. The time change that we’re going to have, all that, that’s what we’re going to deal with today.”
The last time Tampa and New York met in the playoffs, the Lightning won in five games.
But this time out, New York could prove a different test. In their season series, the Islanders held the edge 2-1-0 and outscored Tampa 10-3 in their two wins.
In the bubble, Trotz’s team has allowed 30 or more shots in just four games.
Tampa, meanwhile, will still be without Steven Stamkos. They’ve found ways to win and took down the Boston Bruins, averaging 3.8 goals per game. Brayden Point had eight points in five games against Boston and has 18 points in 13 playoff games, while Ondrej Palat is tied for the longest playoff goal streak in franchise history.
Defensively, the Lightning have a good mix of stay-at-home and attacking skaters. Ryan McDonagh averages 26:41 of ice time a game and patrols his own zone, while Victor Hedman and Kevin Shattenkirk lead the charge up ice. Hedman has nine points in 13 games.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is 10-3-0 in the post-season with a 1.91 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, tops in the league. Semyon Varlamov has been solid for New York, starting all but two games in the bubble for a 2.00 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
This series will come down to shot containment. Tampa averages 35.5 shots on goal per game, but New York’s system makes that difficult. If they keep the puck out of their own end and box out the Lightning, they’ll win. But if Tampa Bay finds depth scoring and stays out of the penalty box, they’ll get the victory and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.