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These 5 Islanders could cause trouble for Lightning in Stanley Cup semifinals

The teams haven’t met since last year’s conference final, which Tampa Bay won four games to two.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) tips the puck towards Semyon Varlamov (40) of the New York Islanders during Game 4 of the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals in September in Edmonton, Alberta.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) tips the puck towards Semyon Varlamov (40) of the New York Islanders during Game 4 of the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals in September in Edmonton, Alberta. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Jun. 10
Updated Jun. 12

The matchup is set. The Lightning will face the Islanders for the second consecutive season in the Stanley Cup semifinals, likely starting this weekend.

The teams have not played each other since last year’s Eastern Conference final, which the Lightning won four games to two en route to hosting the Stanley Cup.

But Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is well aware of what his team is up against.

“They have a bevy of talent there,” Cooper said. “And they have a coach (Barry Trotz) that pushes them all in the right direction, and that’s why they’re good.”

Before the series opens at Amalie Arena in Tampa, here are five Islanders who could make a big impact.

Related: Lightning’s Victor Hedman named a Norris Trophy finalist

Mathew Barzal, center

The Boston Bruins' Charlie Coyle (13) fights for control of the puck with the New York Islanders' Mathew Barzal (13) during Game 4 of their second-round series.
The Boston Bruins' Charlie Coyle (13) fights for control of the puck with the New York Islanders' Mathew Barzal (13) during Game 4 of their second-round series. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

Barzal, a top-line center, led the Islanders in points (45) through 55 regular-season games and was second in goals (17) and assists (28).

He has three goals and six assists through 12 games this postseason, tying for the fifth-most on the team.

Barzal’s impact on the power play is hard to miss, too. He leads the team in power-play points (five) and has one goal with the man-advantage.

Notable moment from this postseason: The Islanders evened their series against the Bruins in Game 4 with the help of Barzal, who scored the winning goal midway through the third period of New York’s 4-1 win.

Signature stat: Through two rounds, Barzal has had three two-point games, including back-to-back contests against Boston in Games 4 and 5.

Related: No additional discipline for Lightning forward Ondrej Palat

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, center

The New York Islanders' Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) skates during Game 3 of their second-round series against the Boston Bruins.
The New York Islanders' Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) skates during Game 3 of their second-round series against the Boston Bruins. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

While Pageau’s regular-season stat line wasn’t the most impressive (14 points, 14 assists, 28 points in 54 games), he seems to have found his scoring touch this postseason. The third-line center leads the team in points (13) and assists (10) through 12 games.

Pageau’s postseason run started off strong with a three-point game (one goal, two assists) at Pittsburgh in Game 1. Since then, he’s logged at least one point in all but four contests.

He’ll be more than ready for the Lightning, too, having seen less ice time the past three games against Boston (averaging 17:06, compared to 21:04 in Game 2).

Notable moment from this postseason: Pageau scored the tying goal against the Penguins in Game 1, part of a three-point night.

Signature stat: Pageau was a threat in the faceoff circle during the regular season, winning 56.7 percent of his draws. He has stayed on track so far this postseason, winning 54.54 percent, second on the team to Casey Cizikas (61.22 percent). It could give the Islanders an edge, as faceoffs have been a problem for the Lightning.

Related: Lightning ‘s Ross Colton doesn’t let lack of experience define postseason play

Brock Nelson, center

The New York Islanders' Brock Nelson (29) drives past the Boston Bruins' Connor Clifton (75) to score during Game 6 of their second-round series.
The New York Islanders' Brock Nelson (29) drives past the Boston Bruins' Connor Clifton (75) to score during Game 6 of their second-round series. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

Nelson led the team in regular-season goals (18) and was third in points (33), behind Barzal (45) and Josh Bailey (35).

The second-line center ranks fourth on his team in postseason scoring (10), behind Pageau (13), Bailey (11) and wing Anthony Beauvillier (11).

Nelson’s dedication to his team cannot be overlooked. The afternoon of Game 4 against Boston, he was with his wife, Karly, for the birth of their child. On no sleep, he skated in the Islanders’ 4-1 win.

Notable moment from this postseason: After the Bruins’ Brad Marchand scored power-play goal to tie Game 6 Nelson answered with the go-ahead goal early in the second period. He scored again just over seven minutes later, helping the Islanders clinch the series.

Signature stat: Nelson is one of three New York players (including Kyle Palmieri and Cal Clutterbuck) with a multi-goal game this postseason.

Related: When it comes to the playoffs, no one has been more prolific than Brayden Point

Ryan Pulock, defenseman

The Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (37) fights for control of the puck with the New York Islanders' Ryan Pulock (6) during Game 6.
The Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (37) fights for control of the puck with the New York Islanders' Ryan Pulock (6) during Game 6. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

Despite having one of the lowest-scoring years of his career (17 points), Pulock has been a key defensive contributor throughout the postseason.

After accumulating just two goals and 15 assists in 56 regular-season games, Pulock has five points, including three goals, in 12 postseason contests.

Notable moment from this postseason: Pulock scored the winning goal from the blue line in a 5-3 win over the Penguins in the Islanders’ opening-round series.

Signature stat: Playing in the top defense pair with Adam Pelech, Pulock has averaged the most time on ice (24:02 per game) of any Islanders skater.

Related: ‘There’s a storm over Tampa Bay but it’s no Hurricane’: Twitter reacts to Lightning clincher

Semyon Varlamov, goaltender

The Boston Bruins' Nick Ritchie (21) watches the puck as New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) makes a save during Game 4 of their second-round series.
The Boston Bruins' Nick Ritchie (21) watches the puck as New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) makes a save during Game 4 of their second-round series. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]

Lightning fans will remember Semyon Varlamov from the 2020 postseason, when he played in all six games against the Lightning, helping the Islanders to two wins.

Varlamov (four wins in seven games) has split time with Ilya Sorokin (four wins in five games) so far this postseason. Varlamov has a .925 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average, allowing 19 goals on 253 shots.

Varlamov played in 36 games during the regular season, going 19-11-4 in his second season in New York. His .929 save percentage was second-highest among goaltenders who played at least 20 games, behind only Carolina’s Alex Nedeljkovic (.932).

Notable moment from this postseason: Varlamov made a huge save in the final seconds of Game 5 against Bruins forward David Krejci to prevent the game from going into overtime. It helped seal a 5-4 win that gave the Islanders a 3-2 series lead.

Signature stat: Varlamov’s .925 save percentage this postseason is tied for eighth-best. Sorokin’s .934 is tied with Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Toronto’s Jack Campbell for second, behind only Montreal’s Carey Price (.935).

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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