Islanders’ fans watching the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success this postseason are seeing a lot of familiar faces on the ice. In fact, former Islanders are playing key roles in the Lightnings road to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The most obvious ex-Islander who has been vital to Tampa Bay’s success has been goalie Dwayne Roloson. The 41-year-old was acquired by the Lightning from the Islanders on January 1 and managed to provide consistent goaltending for the remainder of the season. Without Roloson, the Bolts would not have been the fifth seed in the East and probably would have struggled to make the playoffs.
In the postseason, Roloson has been an indispensible part of Tampa Bay’s recent seven-game winning streak. With his team down three games to one against Pittsburgh, Roloson kept his cool and continued to exude a quiet confidence that has clearly rubbed off on his teammates from the day he joined the club. The result was a comeback that ousted the always dangerous Penguins in seven games. In the deciding Game 7, Roloson made 36 saves to earn a 1-0 shutout victory.
Rollie’s teammates recognized how important he has been to the team’s success. “Obviously, [Roloson] was amazing once again,” sniper Steven Stamkos said after the Lightning ousted the Penguins. “He’s just defying the odds. He was our MVP for sure.”
Roloson is now 6-0 in his career when his team is facing elimination in a playoff series. This season, he has stellar postseason statistics with a 2.01 goals against average and an impressive .940 save percentage in 11 contests.
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau summed up the importance of Roloson to the Lightning when he said, “When they got Dwayne Roloson, they became a completely different team.”
While everyone knew Roloson would be a key to the Lightning’s playoff chances, a surprising key contributor has been forward Sean Bergenheim. The former Isles first round pick was signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman just prior to the start of the season. In 80 games, Bergenheim had 14 goals and 29 points while playing on Tampa Bay’s third line.
In the playoffs, however, Bergie has caught fire. He is tied for the league lead with 7 playoff goals including one game winner. But Bergenheim’s value has gone well beyond goal scoring. His hustle and clutch play have certainly caught the eye of Lightning Coach Guy Boucher. “Every top game, every important game, every game that there is some pressure, he was in it. He was one of our better players,” Boucher said. “Some people freeze under pressure, some people fly away, and some people fight. He fights.”
With the Isles, Bergenheim had a tendency to take bad penalties, but he seems to have eliminated that habit and has shown more discipline with the Lightning. Bergenheim knows what is expected of him in his role as a third line winger and he seems very comfortable giving a smart, all-out effort for about 16 minutes every night.
While Roloson and Bergenheim have taken center stage, another pair of ex-Islanders has also made contributions for the Bolts this postseason. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron has filled in well when the Tampa Bay defense was hit by injuries. He scored a big power play goal in Game 4 against the Caps and also has an assist with the man advantage in seven postseason games. Center Nate Thompson, who also joined the Lightning as a free agent prior to the start of this season, is second among Tampa Bay forwards in hits despite playing fourth line minutes and has added grit and energy when put out on the ice for the Bolts.
Overall, Islanders fans should be enjoying Tampa Bay’s successful playoff run and watching some old familiar faces make some key contributions. And they can also hope that someday soon, their own team will get to do the same thing.