UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The chants were loud and clear as the final minute of Game 6 was ticking away. “We Want Tampa,” an ecstatic crowd of New York Islanders fans screamed as it became clear their team would be advancing to the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
Now the Islanders, and their fans, will in fact get Tampa Bay in the next round, a rematch of last year’s bubble version of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tampa Bay eliminated the Islanders in six games before going on to win the Stanley Cup.
Following their Game 6 win over the Boston Bruns, the Islanders maintained that they weren’t looking for revenge, but they hadn’t forgotten what happened last season either.
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“I think it’s a great opportunity for us seeing them again in the semifinals,” Anthony Beauvillier said. “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. I think it’s a great opportunity for us and everyone is excited in the room. We’re really looking forward to it.”
The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay have not seen one another since their six-game battle in Edmonton last September. Under normal circumstances, the Islanders would have seen them several times during the course of the regular season, but under the condensed COVID-19 schedule that was not the case.
New York surprised most of the hockey world by reaching the conference finals and then provided an exhilarating series with the would-be Cup champions. The Islanders were blown out in the opening game of the series, but lost only one other game by more than one goal in that series.
The Islanders will again face a talented team on the other side of the ice when the puck drops on the semifinals series. Across from them will be a team that has a number of players leading the league in one playoff statistic or another.
Nikita Kucherov’s 18 points and 13 points both lead the league entering the series and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s two shutouts are tied for most in this year’s playoffs. Vasilevskiy’s .934 save percentage is tied for second in the league.
Steven Stamkos, who missed last year’s series with the Islanders, has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and Braydon Point has 12 points (eight goals, four assists).
“If you want to win it all you have to beat the best,” Brock Nelson said. “I don’t think anybody has been sitting here thinking about revenge on Tampa. Just trying to take it each game, 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 here again, so it’ll be a good battle.”
Not to be outdone the New York Islanders have managed to find point producers of their own.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau also has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) for New York in the playoffs. Anthony Beauvillier has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) and Nelson has 10 points (six goals, four assists). Kyle Palmieri’s seven goals lead the Islanders through 12 playoff contests.
“We get a shot to go against the champs again,” Islanders head coach Barry 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. This will be a huge challenge for us, but we’ll try to dissect it and see what we can do.”
The Islanders have taken a step further every year since Barry Trotz joined the Islanders in 2018. They made it to the Second Round in his first year. His second, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
Can they continue that trend this year? Time will tell, but it won’t be easy. If there was any doubt in the Islanders’ room after Wednesday’s series win, you wouldn’t have been able to tell.
“It’s going to be no easy task,” Josh Bailey said. “I think Tampa has a great team, the defending Cup champs. It’s going to be tough, but we believe in ourselves and we know we’re going to need our best to find a way to take them down.”