Lightning vs. Islanders 2020 Eastern Conference Final Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders have taken slightly different paths to the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.

The Lightning are the team that is expected to be here. They have been one of the league’s elite teams for six years now and are making their fourth different trip to the Conference Final during that stretch.

How good have they been during that time? Just consider that since the start of the 2014-15 season no team in the league has won more regular season games (297) or playoff games (46) than the Lightning. The only thing they are missing to cement their greatness is the Stanley Cup itself. They have been so close so many times but have not yet been able to finish the job. Is this their year?

The Islanders, meanwhile, are here to crash the party. Last year they were the plucky underdogs and feel good story, unexpectedly making the playoffs after losing their franchise player and going further without him than they ever did with him. While the 2019-20 season has been a bit more of a roller coaster, they have taken that success one step further and reached a point in the season their fans have not experienced in 27 years by convincingly beating two of the East’s best teams. Do they have one more performance like that in them?

We are about to find out.

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 New York Islanders

Game 1: Monday, Sept. 7, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 2: Wednesday, Sept. 9, 8 p.m ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: 
Friday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m. ET – USA (livestream)
Game 4: 
Sunday, Sept. 13, 3 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: 
Tuesday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 6: 
Thursday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: 
Saturday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary



The Islanders were one of the league’s worst offensive teams during the regular season and one of the worst teams to enter the bubbles. But thanks to the addition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau (who really did not get a chance to play much with the team during the season) and some huge contributions from core players Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, and Brock Nelson the Islanders have found a level of offense during these playoffs they have not had at any point over the past two seasons.

Barzal is their franchise player and is always a treat to watch.

But for as good as the Islanders have been in the playoffs offensively, the Lightning still come into this series as the more dangerous team offensively. Even with Steven Stamkos still sidelined due to injury.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season the Lightning’s 562 regular season goals are not only the most in the NHL, they are 39 more than the next closest team (Toronto at 523). Only two other teams (Toronto and Washington) scored more than 500 goals during that two-year stretch.

Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are constant threats, while they have an absurd level of depth throughout their forward lines especially after the trade deadline additions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, giving them an outstanding third line. They also have Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Ryan McDonagh bringing offense from the blue line.

The Islanders’ offense has played great for four weeks, and deserves a ton of credit for that.

The Lightning offense has played great for years and is the better unit.

Advantage: Lightning


This is an interesting one because even though the Lightning are known for their star power at forward, they still have an outstanding defense as well.

Victor Hedman is a constant contender for the Norris Trophy. Mikhail Sergachev is an emerging star. Ryan McDonagh is still solid as a top-four defender. Kevin Shattenkirk has fit in perfectly as a complementary player instead of having to be “the guy.” They have great individual talent on their blue line, and they turn it into success on the ice. They are far from a one-dimensional team, they can prevent goals almost as well as they score goals.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are a group that is better than the sum of its parts.

That’s not meant to be a slight toward the players on their defense, either. There are a lot of really good, overlooked players here, with Adam Pelech being at the head of that class. His absence in the second half of the season was a big part of their slide, and his presence has been felt in these playoffs. But the key to the Islanders’ success defensively is a disciplined, structured team-wide approach that take away everything from their opponents. They have spent this entire postseason frustrating and shutting down every star player and team that has lined up across from them, and have done so in dominant fashion. This isn’t a team simply getting by on goaltending or luck. They dominated Washington and Philadelphia (two of the top teams in the East).

Advantage: Islanders, but it is close.


Letting Robin Lehner walk in free agency and replacing him with Semyon Varlamov was a huge risk, but it has worked out just fine for the Islanders. Maybe Lehner is still the better goalie, but the duo of Varlamov and Thomas Greiss has given the Islanders what they need. And they have been able to rely on both of them in the playoffs, so much so that starting Greiss (the backup) in a Game 7 resulted in a shutout win. They have both been outstanding at different times in the playoffs.

The Lightning, however, have one of the best goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He has been a Vezina Trophy finalist in each of the past three seasons and won the award during the 2018-19 season.

Putting a goalie like that behind a team with these forwards and this defense is almost unfair.

The Islanders have two really good goalies, but the Lightning have one great goalie.

Advantage: Lightning

Special teams

On paper the Lightning would seem to have the advantage here on the power play given the talent they have at their disposal. They have not been great on the man-advantage during the playoffs (virtually identical success rate to what the Islanders have done) but it has been the better performing group over the larger sampling of the entire season.

Both penalty kill units have also been identical from the very start of the regular season, which should not be a huge surprise given how well both teams play defensively and the level of goaltending they are capable of getting.

The Lightning might get a slight edge in this department just because the power play is capable of being a little more dangerous with the talent they can put on the ice, but really this matchup is close to being a push.

Advantage: Lightning, but barely


Lighting in seven: The Lightning are the better team, but this is not going to be an easy series. Far from it, actually. The Islanders earned their spot here and are a legitimate threat to win it given the way they have played this postseason and the way they completely shut down the Capitals and Flyers (that series may have gone seven games, but the Islanders controlled nearly every game in it). There is no reason to think they can not do it again. But this is going to be the best overall team they have faced yet, and it is a team that does not really have a significant weakness. The Lightning have been so close so many times in recent years, and this is the year they break through. It is their time.

• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


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    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Caps 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

    Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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    NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

    “It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

    New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

    “I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

    “It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

    Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

    Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

    Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

    Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

    The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

    “We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

    Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

    NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


    Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

    Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night. —

    AP NHL: and

    Kings tie franchise mark with point in 11th straight game

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    Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

    LOS ANGELES — Viktor Arvidsson had two goals and the Los Angeles Kings matched their longest point streak in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

    Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Alex Iafallo netted a power-play goal for Los Angeles, which has earned points in 11 straight games for the fourth time. The last occurrence was 2013-14, when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles.

    Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for Winnipeg and Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves.

    Arvidsson – who has 22 goals on the season – has four in the last four games while Doughty has found the net four times in the last five games.

    Arvidsson’s first goal came 82 seconds into the game. Trevor Moore won the faceoff in the offensive zone and made a backhand pass to Arvidsson, who snapped it into the net from the back of the left faceoff circle.

    He also had an empty-net goal late in the third period.

    The Kings extended their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second period on the power play. Phillip Danault made a great pass between Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and Hellebuyck as Iafallo buried it into the short side of the net.

    Doughty extended the lead to 3-1 27 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from outside the right faceoff circle near the boards after Anze Kopitar won the faceoff.


    Winnipeg got its first power-play goal in seven games with 1:23 remaining in the second period when Dubois took a cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor and scored from the left faceoff circle to get the Jets within 2-1.

    The Jets got a five-minute power play after Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte received a five-minute match penalty for a vicious cross-check to Josh Morrissey’s face. The goal came with 33 seconds left in the man advantage.

    NOTES: Danault picked up his 300th career point and 200th assist. … Winnipeg’s Connor set a career high for most assists in a season when he got his 47th on Dubois’ goal.


    Jets: Travel to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

    Kings: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”