Head coach Barry Trotz said he’d be thinking about the Islanders’ loss to the Lightning in the 2019-20 conference finals on his deathbed. Well, now he and his team will get a chance to rectify that.
With a series-clinching 6-2 win over the Bruins on Wednesday night, the Islanders advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals and earned another crack at the Lightning. The rematch is expected to begin this weekend in Tampa, Fla.
During the bubble playoffs last season, the Lightning sent the Islanders packing after taking the series 4-2 before going on to win the Stanley Cup. The Islanders were gassed after the Flyers forced Game 7 in the second-round series, which led to the Lightning taking two easy wins to start the conference finals in Edmonton.
The Islanders won 5-3 in Game 3 and pulled out a 2-1 win in double overtime in Game 5 to stay alive, but the Lightning ultimately advanced. In six games, the Lightning outscored the Islanders 20-12.
“We’ve talked zero about Tampa Bay, zero,” Trotz said with a giggle after the win. “We started out this journey to beat Pittsburgh, and we were able to do that. Then we focused in on Boston. We get a shot to go against the champs again. They’re great. I just watched them close out Carolina. That’s a good hockey team right now, and a very dangerous power play, they’re getting about 50 percent I think, it seems like so.
“They’ve got superstar power, just as Boston does. They’ve got a few lines that can hurt you and a tight goaltender, their defense is extremely deep and their forwards are extremely deep. So this will be a huge challenge for us, but we’ll try to dissect it and see what we can do.”
After a high-scoring bout with the Panthers in the first round this postseason, the Lightning cruised through the Hurricanes, taking the series 4-1. But this time around, the Islanders will be much more rested heading into the series opener.
The Lightning finished third in the Central Division this season, behind both the Hurricanes and Panthers. But the organization took advantage of the Long-Term Injury cap regulations and now have a 20-man lineup that is nearly $8 million over the cap.
That’s with the addition of Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entire regular season due to hip surgery. He now has five goals and 13 assists in 11 postseason games.
“You have to beat the best if you want to win it all,” said Brock Nelson, who scored two of the Islanders’ three second-period goals in the win. “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.”
The Islanders have now won five playoff series, not including the play-in round against the Panthers last season, under Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
The organization had combined for five playoff series wins over the previous 34 years.