The Tampa Bay Lightning will play the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 7 on Saturday to end that second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series and advance to a conference final for the first time since 1993.
“We’re excited. We’ve earned it, [making] this far,” New York defenseman Andy Greene said. “Enjoy it for an hour or two here tonight. We’re back at it, what, Monday? Travel day tomorrow and then we’re right into it. Not too long to bathe in it, but we’ve just got to get focused and get ready for Monday (Game 1, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).”
The best-of-7 series will be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning and Islanders had been playing at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the East.
Tampa Bay defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5 on Aug. 31 to end that second-round series and advance to the third round for the second time in three seasons.
“It’s a great feeling to win the first two rounds,” Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy said. “And after last year (a first-round elimination), we kind of [messed] that up, great series overall. They were pretty consistent, we were pretty consistent, all five games were really tight. We were just a little bit better, and that’s great.”
Tampa Bay was the No. 2 playoff seed after the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. It defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
New York is the No. 6 seed. It defeated the Florida Panthers in four games in the best-of-5 Qualifiers and the Washington Capitals in five games in the first round.
“I look at it as we won three playoff rounds and we’re going to play a very good Tampa [Bay] team here,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re very focused and deep and we’re going to have to come up with a way to try to get by them. I think our guys are up for the challenge because our team has grown. We understand that there’s a certain way that playoff hockey is, and we’ve been able to win a few series in the last two years.”
Brayden Point leads the Lightning with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in the postseason, and Nikita Kucherov has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists). Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman each has nine points (five goals, four assists). Vasilevskiy is 10-3-0 with a 1.91 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
“I had to stop the puck a little bit more than last year,” Vasilevskiy said. “So far, not bad, we’ll see. We have work to do ahead of us Like I said, we’ll see.”
Kucherov was injured by a high stick in the first period Monday and left the game with 6:55 remaining in the second. He practiced Thursday but it is unknown if he will be available for this series.
“A good skate,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after that practice. “He was there, participated. As for anything after that, we don’t know our opponent, let alone when we’re playing.”
Josh Bailey leads the Islanders with 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in the postseason, and Anthony Beauvillier leads New York with eight goals. Semyon Varlamov is 9-4 with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and two shutouts, and Thomas Greiss is 2-1 with a 1.08 GAA, .960 save percentage and one shutout.
The Lightning lost two of three games against the Islanders this season. Steven Stamkos, who has not played this postseason because of a lower-body injury, led Tampa Bay with three points (two goals, one assist). Point, Kucherov, Yanni Gourde and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored two points. Vasilevskiy was 1-1-0 with a 2.54 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage. Backup Curtis McElhinney allowed five goals on 19 shots in a 5-1 loss on Dec. 9.
Bailey and Anders Lee led the Islanders with five points each (two goals, three assists) against the Lightning, and Derick Brassard (two goals, one assist) and Mathew Barzal (one goal, two assists) each scored three points. Varlamov was 1-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA and .951 save percentage in two games. Greiss made 33 saves in a 5-2 win on Nov. 9.
The Lightning and Islanders have played twice in the postseason, with Tampa Bay winning each, the most recent in five games (2016 second round).
The Lightning are in the conference final for a sixth time, and the fourth time in six seasons, most recently losing to the Capitals in seven games in 2018.
“We’re a proud group in that room,” Hedman told NBCSN. “We know what we want and we’re not going to take no for an answer, so, I’m so proud of every single one in there.”
Tampa Bay, which lost in the first round to Columbus last season, also made the conference final in 2016 (lost in seven games to Pittsburgh Penguins), 2015 (lost in six games to Chicago Blackhawks in Stanley Cup Final after defeating the New York Rangers in seven games) and 2011 (lost in seven games to Bruins).
New York won the Wales Conference Finals five straight seasons from 1979-84, winning the Stanley Cup four straight times from 1980-83. The Islanders lost in five games to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 conference final.