There are just four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Vegas Golden Knights will take on the Montreal Canadiens, beginning on Monday night at 8:00 p.m.
The other semi-final series is a rematch of last year as the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the defending champions -- will battle the New York Islanders, a team that features Barry Trotz of Dauphin and Ryan Pulock of Grandview.
Tampa Bay, for the most part, cruised in their last series as they took down Carolina in five games. Meanwhile, the Islanders eliminated Boston with a 6-2 win on Wednesday evening. New York won the final three games of the series and they scored 15 goals in the process.
When New York eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs last round, it was the team's first playoff series win at Nassau Coliseum in 28 years as the last time they clinched a series win on home ice prior to eliminating the Penguins was back in 1993. Now, the Islanders have clinched two playoff series in front of their home fans in a matter of two weeks.
"It was special, the energy in the building was absolutely electric," said Pulock. "Counting down the seconds at the end of the game, you couldn't really hear anything, that's how loud it was. Those are big moments and as a team, that's what we're trying to build upon."
Ryan's second goal of the playoffs proved to be the series winner against Pittsburgh and the former Grand Plains Hawk was back at it again in the series clincher against Boston. Although it wasn't the game-winner, Pulock put a stamp on a dominating game six performance from the Islanders as he scored his third of the playoffs with 48 seconds left in the game.
Ryan now has three goals and two assists in 12 playoff games. The Grandview native played the most minutes of any defenceman on the team in three of the six games, while he played the second-most minutes in two of the contests. A man with a heavy shot from the back end, Ryan has always had a goal of helping out offensively as much as possible but he knows his main goal is locking down the opponent's top players, something Barry Trotz relies on Ryan to do.
"When you get to this point in the playoffs, it's a tough matchup every single night," said Pulock. "It continues to get harder, but it's a challenge that I enjoy."
Lightning vs Islanders:
After Ilya Sorokin propelled New York to victory against Pittsburgh, it was Semyon Varlamov who pushed the Islanders past Boston. He won four of the final five games with a 2.26 GAA and .934 save percentage. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay will certainly go to Andrei Vasilevskiy. He had a 29-save shutout in a 2-0 series-ending win in Game 5 against the Hurricanes. He has a shutout in his past three series-clinching wins, including 2-0 against the Stars in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Game one is set for Sunday at 2:00 p.m. local time and the game will be the first between the two teams this season as they're not in the same division, so they didn't play each other in the regular season. New York forward Josh Bailey says the team has some unfinished business after Tampa Bay eliminated them last season.
If the Islanders hope to have success in the series, staying out of the penalty box will be key. New York's penalty kill has struggled in the playoffs so far, going just 16-for-26 while Tampa Bay's power play is lethal as they're scoring at a near 42 percent clip while on the man advantage. The Islanders' power play, meanwhile, has gone 9-for-32 which equals 28.1 percent.
New York has struggled out of the gates at times this postseason as they haven't had a lead after the first period in any game -- but they are 7-1 in games tied going into the intermission -- because they've outscored their opposition 18-8 in the second period.
Under Barry Trotz, New York has 25 playoff wins in the past three seasons, third-most in the NHL behind Tampa Bay and the team they just eliminated, Boston. Tampa Bay is 8-1 in games when they have a lead heading into the third period in the playoffs after they went 26-0-0 in the regular season and 10-0 in the playoffs last year, which puts extra importance on New York either entering the third tied or with a lead. Just like New York's stellar second-period play, the Lightning has scored 19 goals in the second period during their playoff run while they've only given up 11.
Just like Bailey said, the Islanders have unfinished business and two days before game day, Ryan is confident in his group's abilities.
"I like our team. The two teams that we beat out so far we're very good hockey teams," said Pulock. "We have a chance against anybody and there is a belief in our room that we can continue to move forward and that's important to have that mindset at this point."
Here's the full series schedule: