Ben Bishop (below) isn't the only reason Tampa Bay is in the second round, but he's probably the biggest one. He has earned Vezina Trophy consideration as the NHL's top goalie after leading the league with a 2.06 goals-against average in the regular season. He followed that by stopping 95 percent of his shots in the first round and shutting out Detroit in Game 5. New York's Thomas Greiss allowed 13 goals in the first round over six games and was third in the league with a .925 save percentage — just behind Bishop.
Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has again established himself as one of the sport's rising stars with five postseason goals. No one has more, though Islanders star center John Tavares has just as many. Both teams are looking for depth after relying on their top lines in the first round. "They're a lot like us right now," Bishop said. "They have one really good line that's doing well, and they have a lot of secondary lines that can put in some offense." Keep an eye, too, on wing Kyle Okposo, a crafty forward who had five assists in the first round.
Tampa Bay's defense took a step forward this year and was a key reason why the team advanced to the second round. The Lightning allowed only eight goals in the first round, and Victor Hedman has taken another step as one of the dominant defensemen in the league. New York allowed 2.57 goals per game in the regular season, about average, but the Islanders' 39.2 shots allowed per game in the postseason are the most among any team. Though Johnny Boychuk and Matt Martin are among the top six in the NHL in hits, New York had trouble containing Florida's forwards last round and might have similar difficulties against Tampa Bay in Round 2.
The Lightning's penalty-kill unit followed a strong regular season by allowing only one goal in 25 chances in Round 1. But New York had the edge in the first 82 games (fourth in the league). Tampa Bay's power play was No. 28 in the league in the regular season and, aside from a flurry in Game 4, fizzled in the first round. New York converted on 5 of 21 chances against Florida to advance.
The Lightning's Jon Cooper won in the AHL, where he claimed the Calder Cup, and in the NHL, with a .620 win percentage. Under Cooper, Tampa Bay has won four series and made it to the playoffs in all three of his full seasons. New York's Jack Capuano took a similar path to the NHL but amassed fewer trophies. This year's first round marked his first series win as an NHL head coach.
Eventually the Lightning's absences will add up, either with captain Steven Stamkos (blood clots), defenseman Anton Stralman (leg) or forward J.T. Brown (upper-body). Tampa Bay has an edge in playoff experience and rest, but the Islanders had a better regular season, taking two of three against the Lightning.
Matt Baker, Times staff writer