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How the New York Islanders Can Upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021 Conference Finals

The New York Islanders will face the defending Stanley Cup champion, Tampa Bay Lightning, in the conference finals. The Islanders surprised the hockey world by eliminating the Boston Bruins in six games. This is the same number of games that the Islanders eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. A reason for the Islanders being able to upset the Bruins was the fact that the Islanders received tremendous goaltending in the person of Semyon Varlamov.

Semyon Varlamov won four of his five starts in the six-game series for the New York Islanders. Varlamov finished the series with a .936 save percentage. The 33-year-old outshined the more well-known goaltender in the series, Tuuka Rask, who is a two-time all-star and won the Jennings Trophy after the 2019-2020 season as the goaltender who allows the fewest goals for his team. Rask allowed 85 goals in 82 games played.

One of the main reasons for this elimination is the head coach of the Islanders, Barry Trotz, who was the head coach of the Washington Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Trotz has now won five series with the Islanders since this Stanley Cup win. He is certainly one of the best coaches in the league. The fact that the Capitals did not offer him a contract after he led the team to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history is something that can be seen as a mistake.

New York Islanders Trade Deadline Acquisition Could Prove to be Invaluable

Kyle Palmieri was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline by the New York Islanders from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst. The Islanders also sent a first-round pick in 2021 and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft. Palmieri has been great for the Islanders, playing only 17 games, scoring two goals, and adding two assists for the Islanders as a trade-deadline acquisition from the New Jersey Devils in 2021.

Palmieri was excited for the chance to play for the Stanley Cup at 30-years-old. ‘The opportunity to go and be a part of a team that has a chance to do something special is something every player wants,’ Palmieri said. ‘That"s all you can ask for. I"m really looking forward to this opportunity.’ The New Jersey Devils are not expected to compete for a Stanley Cup in the coming years, which is why they traded Palmieri to the Lightning at the trade deadline.

Another reason for the New York Islanders’ success in the playoffs is the fact that the team has been allowed to have fans in their home arena, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This is the last season that the team will play in this building as the team is moving to UBS Arena at Belmont Park. The crowd at Nassau Coliseum was electric throughout the series. Video of the fans singing the national anthem before game six went viral.

The New York Islanders will have to lean on this crowd’s energy if they are going to have a chance to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning has the more talented roster. Not only did the Lightning have players such as captain Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat during the regular season, but they also have Nikita Kucherov returning from a hip injury. Kucherov set multiple records during the 2018-2019 NHL regular season, scoring 128 points. This was before the Lightning had broken through and won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

No one can say that Kucherov missing the entire 2020-2021 regular season with a hip injury led to him being rusty to start the playoffs. Kucherov has scored five goals and added 13 assists in only 11 games in the playoffs. The fact that the defending Stanley Cup champions are getting one of the better players in the league back after an entire regular season in which the team would finish third place in the central division is almost unfair. Kucherov is already a Stanley Cup champion and a four-time all-star at the age of only 27. Kucherov is clearly a special player that the Islanders will need to focus on during the conference finals.

The New York Islanders will have to neutralize Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point to have a chance in the conference finals. Head coach of the New York Islanders Barry Trotz is going to have to employ a defensive gameplan if his team is going to have a chance to upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the upcoming conference finals. Semyon Varlamov is going to have to continue his hot streak for the Islanders to have a chance.

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