The Saints—Sorry, The ISLANDERS Might Be A Tougher Task For The Lightning This Time Around
12:14 PM EDT on June 10, 2021
My beautiful sons the New York Islanders took care of business. Against the Boston Bruins at home in Game 6 of their second-round series, with an absolutely electric three-goal second period that featured two from Brock Nelson and one from Kyle Palmieri, the Isles ended up pretty much cruising to a 6-2 victory that eliminated the B's from the playoffs. It was the latest in what's becoming a pretty great run of big wins in front of the rowdy crowds at Nassau Coliseum, who this time around had plenty of fun with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy calling the team the "New York Saints" while complaining about the officiating after Game 5.
The win earned the Isles another date with the Tampa Bay Lightning in what I guess we're calling the Stanley Cup Semis this year, since there are no conferences. When they drop the puck, it'll be the first NHL game against foes from outside each other's division since last year's Cup Final, but even if they haven't met this season, there is still plenty of familiarity between these two teams. This third-round series is the Islanders' shot at revenge for last year, when the Lightning beat them in six to win the East en route to winning it all.
Maybe "revenge" isn't quite the right word. That implies that the Isles were wronged in some way, and they really weren't. It was just a frickin' weird series where they held on for dear life against a dominant foe, going days without touching the puck, praying that the Bolts wouldn't be able to get it across the goal line, and stealing games with plays like this one.
That obviously was not a sustainable strategy, and when the handshake lines formed there was no doubt about which was the superior team. Heading into the rematch, it is again extremely clear who the favorites are. The Bolts look somehow even better than they did last year now that Steven Stamkos is suited up for this run, while the Isles ... well, their top playoff goalscorer Palmieri wasn't there last year, but a healthy Anders Lee was, so it feels like a wash.
After seeing the Lightning answer every question against the Panthers and the Hurricanes, it's hard to predict any different outcome for this rematch. There's a lot stacked against the Saints here. They finished fourth in their division. They were 21st in the league in goals and 22nd in shots. Defensively, the Lightning actually allowed fewer attempts than the Isles did this year and boast their own Russian starting goalie who can match the terrifying tandem of Sorokin and Varlamov. And the Islanders' one neat trick from the Boston series—stifling every line that wasn't Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, making 60 percent of the Bruins' ice time offensively useless—will be harder to perform against a team where Kucherov/Point and Stamkos skate on separate units.
But I don't care! Ever since Barry Trotz showed up and transformed this team into a nightmarish opponent that refuses to allow goals, that Isles have looked a little bit better in the postseason every year. In 2018–19, before the sheer shock of their winning ways had even worn off, they got swept out by Carolina in Round 2. In 2020, in a completely sterile atmosphere, they slipped by the Flyers in seven to meet the Bolts. And finally in 2021, they convincingly downed the Bruins and proved themselves as the best possible opponent for the Lightning in front of, thank goodness, 12,000 Long Islanders who were ready to pick a fight.
I personally would not want to travel to this building as a visiting team and face their wrath. Would you?
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