If this seems familiar, it is because it is.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders are meeting for a chance to play for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, while it is the third time in four years that head coaches Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper have faced off in this round. There was obviously last year’s matchup, which the Lightning won in six games on their way to a Stanley Cup title, and also the 2018 matchup with Trotz’s Capitals topped Cooper and the Lightning on their way to the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning being here should be no surprise at this point. This is their fifth trip to the semifinals in the past seven years, and the sixth time they have reached this point in the Steven Stamkos–Victor Hedman era going back to the 2010-11 season. They are the the gold standard in the league for consistency and success and just keep winning.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
The Islanders, meanwhile, keep proving the doubters wrong. No matter what their regular season record, no matter the talent gap on paper, no matter the outside predictions, they just keep stringing together wins come playoff time. They have had more success in the Barry Trotz era over the past three years than they did in the 24 years that preceded it.
Now they have one more step to take. Can they take it this season and get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1983? They have to win a rematch with the Lightning.
Schedule – series livestream link
Game 1: Sun. June 13: Islanders at Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2: Tues. June 15: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Thurs. June 17: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
On paper these two rosters could not be more different offensively.
The Lightning are loaded from top-to-bottom at forward and on defense with players that can fill the net. They have superstars at every level, from Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point at forward, to Victor Hedman on defense. Add in a great supporting cast that is led by Anthony Cirelli, Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn and it is one of the best offensive teams in the league. They can overwhelm you with speed and skill and can outscore anybody when they are clicking.
The Islanders’ lineup has a lot of players that can contribute and is very balanced, but there are not a lot of game potential game-breakers here. They have an aggressive forecheck and can cause havoc on opposing defenders, but it is not a team that is going to score a lot of goals. Mathew Barzal is great and one of the best skaters and puckhandlers in the league, but there is not much star power after him. He really started to get hot in the Islanders’ Second Round win against the Boston Bruins.
This is an interesting matchup.
While the Lightning are known for their star forwards, they still have a great collection of defensemen led by Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. Hedman is a future Hall of Famer and one of the best players of his era at his position. You know you are going to see him for 28 minutes a night, in every situation, and he is going to impact the game in a significant way. Was his 2020-21 season as good as some of his recent years? Maybe not. But he is still great.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
The Islanders’ defense doesn’t have much star power in terms of name recognition, but the duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock is as good as it gets across the NHL.
No team has allowed fewer goals than the Islanders over the past three years, and while it may not always be a conventional way of shutting teams down, they have consistently been one of the toughest teams to create offense against.
The Islanders have a strong combination of quality and quantity as Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin are both capable of starting and playing at a high level. Both have done it this postseason already, with Sorokin getting the Islanders through the First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Varlamov taking over against the Bruins.
But while the Lightning only have one elite goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the elite goalie in the NHL. As in, the best goalie. He is not only wildly productive and extremely durable, he just makes things look alarmingly easy no matter what sort of chances he has to face. The Lightning have not been as dominant this postseason as they have in recent years and have needed to rely on Vasilevskiy a little more, and he has been fantastic.
The Lightning are not afraid of a special teams game because they are equally good on the power play and penalty kill, finishing among the top-eight league wide in both categories. They play a physical style and will take a lot of penalties, but they can successfully kill that shorthanded time. When they get the even-up calls, then turn them into goals.
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The Islanders special teams teams reflects the overall outlook of the team: They are very good on the penalty kill and can keep the puck out of the net, but are only average to maybe below average on the man advantage.
Tampa Bay’s excellence in both areas gives it the advantage.
Prediction: Lightning in six
The same matchup as a year ago with the same result. The Islanders make their style and system work, and it has gotten them incredibly far in the playoffs. The idea of them winning this series is not outrageous. It could happen. Actually, it could easily happen. But the Lightning are the clear favorites and they not only have the offense that can beat the Islanders’ structure, but they also have the defense and goaltending to lock things down. The Lightning should be able to continue their quest for a repeat.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.