This was a game of identity so why would anyone expect anything else than the center of the Islanders’ Identity Line scoring the winner in overtime?
Well, except for the tiny fact that the man of the moment, Casey Cizikas had not scored in the playoffs since April 21, 2015, a run of 47 straight since he got one in Game 4 of the first round against a Washington team with Barry Trotz behind the bench.
“Yeah, it’s been a real long time,” Cizikas said while barely stifling a chuckle after beating Tuukka Rask over the right shoulder on a breakaway at 14:48 of OT to lift the Islanders to a 4-3 Game 2 victory over the Bruins to knot their second round series at a game apiece. “You just do the right things in overtime, be in the right spots, and I was lucky enough to have that puck pop off into the middle and give me an opportunity to get us the win.”
This was an intense match through nearly 75 minutes of hand-to-hand hockey combat. No ice was given away for free. No hit was turned away from. Every shift was a test. And the Islanders had aced it through the first 50 minutes in building a 3-1 lead on a three-goal explosion within a second-period span of 10:29 that included a pair of power-play scores while stifling the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line.
But when Marchand scored from the left circle at 10:34 and then Bergeron blew one past Semyon Varlamov through an inadvertent screen set by Noah Dobson on a power play created by a too-many-men infraction caused by Josh Bailey at 15:06 of the third, the game seemed to slip away.
But no, not quite. The teams traded long down-low possessions in the offensive zone. Varlamov, who was outstanding in his first action since Game 3 of the Pittsburgh series, made perhaps a series-defining rebound stop on Taylor Hall from the left porch at 6:54 of OT.
“For him to come in and play like that and come up with that big save, it just gives you that little boost you sometimes need,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “We had our looks and we had our chances, and to see that your goalie has your back, it’s massive.”
Two shifts later, the Bruins had control. Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon tried to go D-to-D from the left point. Only there was no Boston defenseman on the right. Only the attempted pass glanced off Charlie Coyle’s skate, where it was gathered by Cizikas, who was off to the races.
“This is sort of a character win for us,” said Trotz, who chose the correct goaltender and also chose correctly by sticking with his line combinations. “And there is no one who has more character in our dressing room and is more loved by Casey.
“He gives us everything he’s got shift in and shift out. He’s a total team guy, a great teammate, and for him to score a goal like that, I guarantee you when he came into our room, it exploded with guys hugging him and all that.
“That’s what makes this group very special. They love to spend time together, they love playing and being accountable to each other. You know, everyone is a hero in that room and Casey is one of the guys that does everything for us.”
Cizikas is also an impending unrestricted free agent, but there will be ample time to discuss that once the ride comes to a stop for the Islanders.
From the get-go, the Islanders were far more to handle than they had been Saturday when the Bergeron line embarrassed them. On that night, the trio had a 23-6 edge in five-on-five attempts and an expected xGF of 89.16. In Game 2, the edge was just 18-15 and the xGF at 51.28.
Mat Barzal, eliminated in Game 1, was a force throughout most of this one. He and linemates Leo Komarov and Jordan Eberle created on nearly every shift through the opening two periods, on for an 18-8 edge in attempts after cobbling together a total of three attempts in Game 1. Trotz challenged Barzal to fight for his inches, and he took feet, if not yards.
“I thought he was good. He was dangerous and that line was really good,” the coach said. “He was dancing.”
So, when it was over, were the Islanders, dancing back to Nassau County for Game 3 at Ye Olde Barn on Thursday.