Three things we learned in the NHL: Look out for Lightning

The Lightning find themselves in the Eastern Conference Final once again after topping the Islanders, who had momentum on their side after a series win against Florida.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight year after closing out their series against the New York Islanders in Sunday’s Game 5.

Here are three things we learned from the Lightning’s 4-0 victory.

Watch out for Hedman
Nikita Kucherov claimed the NHL’s playoff goal-scoring lead with his third period tally, but defenceman Victor Hedman was the big story in the Lightning’s 4-0 victory. (Well, one of the big stories — more on that later.)

Hedman jumped into the play for a surprise snipe to start the scoring in the first period.

The Swedish blue-liner — who, you’ll remember, was taken No. 2 overall behind John Tavares in 2009 — then unleashed an absolute blast from the point to make it 3-0 in the second period.

Sportsnet on Twitter

Victor Hedman with a blast from the point for his second goal of the game. Scrub back and forth to watch in slo-mo!pic.twitter.com/h6IcMNXbWA

Hedman, 25, ends the five-game series with an impressive four goals and four assists. He’s currently tied with Kevin Shattenkirk for third in playoff points by a defenceman with nine. (Brent Burns is in first with 13, followed by John Carlson with 11.) It’s that kind of performance that’s making the Lightning look pretty invincible right now, even without captain Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman.

Next up, the Lightning will face the winner of the Pittsburgh-Washington series.

Chris Johnston on Twitter

The #TBLightning vs #pens/#caps Eastern Conference final is going to be something to watch. Speed galore.

And speaking of Stamkos… the series victory could open the door for a return from the captain. And, uh, to further the speculation… the last time the the Lightning and Islanders met in the post-season — another five-game series — Tampa went on to win the Stanley Cup. Do with that information what you will.

Chris Johnston on Twitter

Had a NHL player tell me just before the playoffs started that #TBLightning were more dangerous this year than last. He might be right.

Can’t beat Bishop
A playoff team just isn’t a playoff team without stellar goaltending, and the Lightning have that and more in netminder Ben Bishop.

Bishop was perfect in goal in Game 5, stopping all 28 shots to shut out the Islanders and close the series.

Sound familiar? That’s because Bishop has made a habit of blanking teams in series-clinching games. Sunday’s perfect record was his fourth career series-clinching shutout. (He blanked Detroit in Game 5 last series and claimed two Game 7 shutouts last year.)

NHL Public Relations on Twitter

Most series-clinching shutouts, NHL history: 5 – C. Osgood 4 – J. Plante 4 – M. Brodeur 4 – @Benbishop30 (@TBLightning) (via @EliasSports)

Sunday’s victory also marked his 21st career playoff win, putting the 29-year-old atop the record books for most post-season wins in franchise history, tied with Nikolai Khabibulin.

“It’s a team effort,” Bishop told reporters after the game. “I just try to make a couple saves here and there.”

Spoken like a true hockey player.

Joe Smith on Twitter

On how #tblightning has allowed one combined goal in the last five series-clinching wins, Cooper says. “Two words. Ben Bishop.”

What’s next for New York?
Sunday’s loss brought an end to the Islanders’ longest playoff run since 1993. It also brings up a lot of questions about the team’s future — and which players will be part of it.

The Islanders have three notable pending unrestricted free agents in Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen. Might they have played their final games in Brooklyn?

Okposo, who has become such a big part of the Islanders’ identity, is likely due to for a big raise after what has been a productive season alongside captain Tavares at an affordable $2.8-million cap hit.

Martin didn’t get on the board this post-season, but the NHL’s hits king has been a real force for the deep Islanders. It’s unclear what he could garner on the open market, but it’s bound to be a step up from his current $1-million cap hit.

Damien Cox on Twitter

You’d sure think Matt Martin is going to get some UFA interest this summer.

Nielsen, another longtime Islander and part of the leadership core, also has plenty of question marks surrounding his future with the club.

Those questions will be answered soon enough, but one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be an interesting off-season for the Islanders.

For now, it’s time to shake hands after a well-fought series.

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