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Head-to-Head: Islanders in Familiar Role, Eager Underdog

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The New York Islanders will face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fourth time in franchise history in the playoffs and the second consecutive year in a row in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Tampa knocked out the Islanders in six games last year in a spirited series in the playoff bubble in Edmonton.

History hasn’t been too kind to New York when it has come to postseason meetings between the two clubs. Tampa Bay has defeated the Islanders in all three previous series and they have gone on to win the Cup in two of three instances.

[Click here for complete Stanley Cup Playoff coverage of the New York Islanders]

The Islanders will try to curb that trend after coming pretty close last season, but the challenge will remain the same. So how do the Islanders match up with Tampa Bay heading into the Stanley Cup Semifinals?

Let’s take a deeper look:

Forwards

The Tampa Bay core of forwards is a venerable whos who of the league’s top performers in the playoffs. Nikita Kucherov’s 18 points and 13 assists in the playoffs lead the league as the postseason gets widdled down to four teams. Steven Stamkos’ 13 points (five goals eight assists) is also among the league-best. Brayden Point has eight goals through 11 games, which is the most of any skater in the postseason. And that is just scratching the surface of the weapons that Tampa has. Alex Killorn,  Blake Coleman, Pat Maroon and Yanni Gourde also make Tampa Bay a team that can roll four lines, similar to the Islanders.

For their part, the Islanders have found some weapons of their own in the postseason. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has put up 13 points in 12 games and is also among the points leaders in the NHL during the playoffs. His linemate, Kyle Palmieri, leads the New York Islanders in goals with seven and Brock Nelson is right behind him with six. Star forward Mathew Barzal has turned it on of late as well for the Islanders with three goals in his last five playoff games.

Advantage Tampa Bay

Defense

There’s nothing easy about going up against a Norris Trophy finalist and that’s what the Islanders will be doing in the semifinals. Victor Hedman is again the team’s No. 1 defenseman who leads Tampa in time on ice with 24:48 during the postseason and 11 points to boot in 11 games. Tampa Bay has given up the second-fewest goals per game among the four remaining playoff teams and they have plenty of talent among their blue line.

Where Tampa Bay has lacked, however, has been getting offensive contributions from their defenders. So far they haven’t had a single defenseman put the puck in the back of the net. The Islanders on the other hand have had three of their defenders cash in on scoring chances, with Ryan Pulock leading the charge with three.

The New York Islanders haven’t been too shabby with keeping the puck out of the net either, allowing only 2.75 goals against per game during their playoff run. That is still fourth among the four teams still in the playoffs. Pulock and Adam Pelech have anchored the D core during the postseason matching up well against the best players on opposing teams. Noah Dobson has looked more confident on the ice as the playoffs have gone on and Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield have been steady since their regular season struggles.

No Advantage

‘We Expected to be Back Here,’ Islanders Matt Martin Unsurprised to be Back in Semis

Goaltending

There’s no sugarcoating which team is carrying the better goaltender(s) in so far in the playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy finalist, has recorded two shutouts in the playoffs and is carrying a 2.24 goals-against average and .934 save percentage into the series against the Islanders. His save percentage is only behind Carey Price in the playoffs. Vasilevskiy has also had success against the Islanders, where he is 7-4 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.33 goals-against average in 12 career meetings.

The Islanders have had success so far utilizing both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin during their playoff run. They actually became the first team since the 1987 Montreal Canadiens to have one goaltender win all four games of one series and the other win all four games of the next series. Sorokin also has a .934 save percentage in the playoffs, but he has played six fewer games than Vasilevskiy. Varlamov has had some crucial saves during the postseason, as has Sorokin, but he has also been known to surrender soft goals early in games.

Advantage Tampa Bay

Special Teams

The Islanders’ power play found some steam in the Second Round against Boston and they’ll need that again against Tampa Bay and the penalty kill will need to clamp down. Tampa enters the series with a 41.7 percent success rate on the man-advantage converting on 15 of their 36 opportunities. Even with their success on the man-advantage last round they have only converted on nine of their 32 chances.

Advantage Tampa Bay

Three Things the New York Islanders Need to Beat Tampa Bay

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