Lightning, Islanders envision tight Stanley Cup semifinal

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Experience is a vital ally in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There’s little the safeguarding champ Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t experienced throughout deep postseason runs 5 of the previous 7 years. The New York City Islanders haven’t attained as much however have actually advanced enough in 3 seasons under Barry Trotz to not feel like heavy underdogs in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

“We believe we’re a good team. We expected to be here. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but coming into the season, we expected to be here,” New york city’s Matt Martin stated. “We’re proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished to this point, but the job is still not done and we have our sights set on going all the way.”

The opener Sunday is a best-of-7 rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference last, which was played in the NHL bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, and won by Tampa Bay in 6 video games.

The groups did not fulfill throughout the condensed 56-game routine season, which was restricted to divisional play due to the coronavirus pandemic..

“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,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper stated.

“They have a bevy of talent there, and they have a coach that pushes them all in the right direction. That’s why they’re good,” Cooper included. “There should be no surprise the Islanders are where they are.”

Or that Tampa Bay remains in the NHL’s last 4 for a 5th time in 7 seasons. The Lightning have actually won a franchise-best 6 successive playoff series given that being swept in the preliminary by Columbus 2 years earlier.

Nikita Kucherov is revealing why he’s one of the league’s finest gamers with 18 points in 11 video games after missing out on the whole routine season while recuperating from hip surgical treatment.

Braden Point and Steven Stamkos are illuminating the scoreboard in the playoffs also, and Vezina Prize finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy is anchoring a stingy defense that offered Florida and Carolina suits the very first 2 rounds.

“We haven’t played them, but if there’s a team that we’ve played most recent that we haven’t played in our division it would be them, which helps a little bit,” stated Trotz, who remains in his 3rd season as coach of the Islanders.

“It’s going to be a battle of a series, just like it was in the bubble. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” New york city’s Mathew Barzal stated.

“We’ve got to go through them to get to where we want to go,” Martin included. “Our focus is on that and getting off to a good start Sunday.”

The Islanders, who’ve made the playoffs each of their 3 seasons under Trotz, got rid of Pittsburgh and Boston in the very first 2 rounds.

“A lot of similarities on their end and the same with us,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman stated.

“They’re a great team, play with a lot of speed, got some physical ‘D’ that can skate and good goaltending,” Hedman included. “When it comes down to four teams left, it’s the best of the best that are still here.”

GOOD TO BE HOUSE?

The Lightning are beginning a series in the house for the very first time this postseason. They won Games 1 and 2 on the roadway each of the previous 2 rounds, versus the Panthers and Hurricanes. They’re 3-2 at Amalie Arena compared to 5-1 far from house.

4 LINES

The Islanders get scoring from 4 physical lines. Mathew Barzal (3 objectives, 6 helps) focuses the leading line with Leo Komarov and Jordan Eberle (3 objectives, 5 helps), followed by Brock Nelson (6 objectives, 4 helps) focusing experienced Josh Bailey (5 objectives, 6 helps) and the rapid Anthony Beauvillier (4 objectives, 7 helps). Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3 objectives, 10 helps) leads the flexible 3rd line with Kyle Palmieri (7 objectives, 2 helps) and Travis Zajac/Oliver Wahlstrom, followed by the physical Identity Line with Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. The defensemen contribute on the scoresheet also, led by novice Noah Dobson (7 helps), Nick Leddy (5 helps), hard-shooting Ryan Pulock (3 objectives, 2 helps) and Scott Mayfield (one objective, 4 helps).

LOCKDOWN DEFENSE

The Islanders are the league’s most physical group with 4 gamers — Clutterbuck, Martin, Komarov and Pulock — in the leading 7 for hits. The Islanders did a skillful job closing down Penguins stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guenztel, restricting them to 3 objectives and 6 helps in the preliminary. They weren’t as effective versus Boston’s Excellence Line, as Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron integrated for 10 objectives and 12 helps in the second-round series. Nevertheless, New york city held the remainder of the Bruins to simply 7 objectives. They’ll have their work cut out for them against Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman, who combined for nine objectives, 14 assists in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, which Steven Stamkos missed.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

After a strong regular season, Semyon Varlamov found himself on the bench while rookie Ilya Sorokin was shining in the first round. When Sorokin lost the series opener versus Boston in the second round, New York coach Barry Trotz turned back to Varlamov and the veteran has been stellar since. He led the Islanders to a series win while giving up 12 objectives in five games, posting a 2.26 goals-versus average and .934 save-percentage.

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AP Sports Author Vinay Cherwoo added to this report.

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.