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NHL

Sometimes The Puck Picks The Hero

Casey Cizikas scores
Bruce Bennett/Getty

If your team had a sudden breakaway opportunity in overtime to tie a second-round series at 1-1 on the road, there are at least 100 better options for the guy with the puck on his stick than the Islanders’ Casey Cizikas. Before Monday, the fourth-line grinder who’s been with the Islanders since 2012 hadn’t scored since April Fools’ Day, and he’d gone 47 playoff games without finding the back of the net.

But playoff overtimes do not allow teams to pick and choose who is on the ice when chance breaks their way out of nowhere. After 75 minutes of hockey with the score stuck at 3-3, when a bad pass from Bruins D-man Jeremy Lauzon hit his own teammate’s skate, only Casey Cizikas could have picked up the puck and flown with it. The rest of the Islanders could do nothing but watch and try their best to ignore their wish that it be Beauvillier or Palmieri or Bailey or Pageau or Nelson or Eberle in his place. Turns out, they didn’t need any of the guys who have actually scored for them lately. This unlikely hero was all it took to end it.

“It’s been a real long time. You’re just trying to do the right things in overtime. Be in the right spot,” Cizikas said afterwards. “I was lucky for that puck to pop off in the middle there, and give me an opportunity to get that one.”

It’s very, very hard to overstate the importance of this goal as the Isles try and take down the Bruins. New York was coming off three straight wins against the Penguins to advance from the first round when they collided with Boston on Saturday, and there, they stalled out in the third period, allowing David Pastrnak to get a hat trick as part of a three-goal final stretch that saw the Bruins win 5-2.

Again, in Game 2, the Islanders played better than Boston over the first 40 minutes but faltered in the last 20. They took a 3-1 lead into the third but couldn’t contain the two other Bruins stars—Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand—as each scored to send it into overtime.

A 2-0 deficit as you head back home is not a death sentence—Montreal just survived worse. But it absolutely would have been tough, especially against a team as experienced, talented, and decidedly uncursed as these Bruins. But luckily for the Islanders, they don’t even have to worry about that! Cizikas’s huge goal not only draws them level on the series, but also enables them to clinch it just by winning every game that remains at The Old Barn.™

And this morale boost would have counted if any of the names I dropped up above had scored the goal instead of the guy who’s second-to-last on the team in ice time this postseason. But that it was the long-goalless role player who got to take advantage of the Boston mishap only seems to add to the positive energy around this lovable little squad.

“This is a character win,” coach Barry Trotz said. “There is no one that has bigger character in our dressing room and is more loved than Casey. When he came in, our room exploded with guys hugging him.”

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