For a second-straight year, the New York Islanders are playing in the Stanley Cup semifinals and for a second-straight year, they’ll be playing the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The two teams met in the Edmonton bubble last summer with the Lightning prevailing in six games to end the Islanders’ Cinderella run to their first Eastern Conference Final since 1993.
Now comes a chance for some payback.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to see them again in the semifinals,” winger Anthony Beauvillier said after his team eliminated the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night. “We’re just taking a lot of pride in what we do to get back to the spot we were in last year with some unfinished business. It’s a great opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”
Taking down the Islanders was the Lightning’s penultimate stop to their second-ever Stanley Cup title, which they achieved by taking care of the Dallas Stars in the final.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, Tampa’s a great team, defending champs,” Josh Bailey said. “We believe in ourselves and know we’ll need to find our best.”
The Islanders were dealt a tough hand last season entering those conference finals against Tampa. After beating the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh game of the conference semis, they had to pack up and leave the Toronto bubble, travel across Canada to Edmonton, and play two nights later against a well-rested Lightning team that trounced a sluggish Islanders 8-2 in Game 1 — creating a hole that they were never able to dig out of — though they took Games 5 and 6 to overtime and were a Brock Nelson breakaway conversion away from forcing a seventh game.
“You have to beat the best if you want to win it all,” Nelson said. “I don’t think anyone’s been sitting here thinking about revenge on Tampa. Just taking each series one at a time. Now we can turn the page and turn our focus on them. They’re a great team, defending champs… it’ll be a good battle.”
Nelson’s sentiments derive from head coach Barry Trotz, who ensured his team didn’t look even a second ahead of where they were situated throughout the postseason.
“We’ve talked zero about Tampa Bay. Zero,” Trotz said. “We just start out this journey to beat Pittsburgh. We were able to do that and then we focused in on Boston. We get a shot to go against the champs again.”
After taking down the Florida Panthers in six games, the Lightning disposed of a Carolina Hurricanes team who won the Central Division in five games.
“I just watched them close out Carolina. That’s a good hockey team right now with a very dangerous power play,” Trotz said. “They’ve got superstar power just like Boston does. They have a few lines that can hurt you and a Vezina-type goaltender. Their defense is extremely deep and their forwards are extremely deep.”