On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 to win the series 4-1. The following night, the New York Islanders booked their ticket to the Stanley Cup Semifinals by defeating the Boston Bruins in six games. Playing in their fourth playoff series against each other, the Islanders will become the Lightning’s most-played playoff opponent all-time. Let’s take a look at how their previous series played out.
On the Road to the Cup
The 2003-04 season was a magical one for the Lightning. They finished the regular season with 106 points, good for first place in both the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division. Entering the playoffs as the number one seed, they were set to face off against the eighth seed Islanders in what would be the first-ever playoff series between the franchises. The first four games finished with a score of 3-0. With Nikolai Khabibulin in net, the Lightning won three of those four contests to take a 3-1 series lead.
Game 5 of the series was the first in which both teams found the back of the net. The Lightning took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but the Islanders fought back and scored to force overtime. Just four minutes into overtime, Martin St. Louis lit the lamp to end the series. As many Bolts fans remember well, defeating the Islanders was just the start of a long playoff run. The Lightning would go on to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
Second Time Around
The two teams would go head-to-head again during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, this time in the second round. The Islanders opened the series with a 5-3 win at Amalie Arena. The Lightning then tied the series at 1-1 before traveling to New York. Games 3 and 4 would require more than 60 minutes to decide a winner. Nikita Kucherov scored the tying goal in the third period of both games to send them to overtime. Goals from Brian Boyle and Jason Garrison won Game 3 and 4 for the Lightning, respectively.
Ultimately, the second playoff series between the franchises ended much like the first, in five games. Goaltender Ben Bishop stood on his head in Game 5, shutting out the Islanders and clinching the series for the Lightning. However, the Lightning failed to secure the ultimate prize, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup over the San Jose Sharks.
Make Way for the Champs
The Lightning and the Islanders met in Round 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Eastern Conference Final. Winning by a comfortable score of 8-2, the Lightning put a thrashing on the Islanders in Game 1. Brayden Point and Kucherov put on a show, recording five points each in the contest, but Game 2 was a much closer contest. The game was tied at one until Kucherov found the back of the net with only nine seconds left in the third period to seal the victory. However, the Islanders wouldn’t go down without a fight.
After blowing a 3-1 lead, Brock Nelson scored late in the third to give the Islanders the win in Game 3. The Lightning bounced back with a 4-1 win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. But the Islanders would fight back, preventing the Lightning from winning the series in five games again. On the back of Semyon Varlamov’s 36 saves, the Isles won in double overtime. Game 6 would require extra time, too, but this time, Anthony Cirelli found the back of the net just over 13 minutes into overtime to send the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Islanders were arguably the most difficult team the Lightning faced during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As fate would have it, the Lightning would go on to defeat the Dallas Stars to secure the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
The Lightning will take on the Islanders for the second season in a row for the right to move on to the Stanley Cup Final. Although it will be their first meeting this season, the two teams have become very familiar with each other. The Lightning are especially familiar with Islanders’ head coach Barry Trotz, who they’ve played against in the third round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
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The Islanders come into the series after defeating both the Penguins and the Bruins in six games. Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the team in assists, 10, and points, 13, this postseason. Kyle Palmieri, acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline, has been on fire. He has scored four goals and two assists in his last five games. Although the Lightning are heavily favored to win the series, the Islanders won’t make it easy by any stretch of the imagination. When asked about the Islanders, the Lightning head coach Jon Cooper stated,
“They’re like a really good team…Look at the players they have. That Cizikas line [Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin] has been regarded for years as the best bottom six line in the league…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’s stars have shined this season. Kucherov, Lightning franchise leader in all playoff scoring categories, leads the league in playoff points, 18, and assists, 13. Point is tied for the lead in goals, 8, and Victor Hedman is tied for first in assists among defensemen, with 11. After playing just 2:47 last postseason, it has been great to see Steven Stamkos healthy and performing well. His five goals and eight assists are good for second on the team in points.
Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the key to winning the series, though. He has stood on his head all season long, and many thought he should be in the running for the Hart Trophy. The Vezina Trophy finalist has a 2.24 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. According to Evolving-Hockey, he is second among goaltenders, with a goals saved above expected of 7.38, trailing only Connor Hellebuyck.
The Lightning will have home-ice advantage for the first time this postseason. The series will begin on Sunday at 3 PM EST at Amalie Arena. The Lightning will look to defeat the Islanders in the playoffs for the fourth straight time as they continue their quest for back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville