Casey Cizikas could not have picked the moment any better.
His New York Islanders had blown a 3-1 third-period lead in Game 2 of the Eastern Division final against the Bruins in Boston on Monday night and were playing the dangerous game of trading chances with the high-powered B’s in overtime.
But with 5:12 remaining and with the Bruins threatening the Islanders’ zone yet again, Boston defenseman Jeremy Lauzon passed a puck along the blue line off an unknowing teammates skate, popping right into the path of an on-rushing Cizikas, who found himself on a breakaway — a rare clean chance for a team that had found its offensive success against goaltender Tuukka Rask by crashing the net with plenty of traffic.
This time, it was just Cizikas — the center of the Islanders’ hard-hitting fourth line, also known as its identity line — and Rask.
And it was Cizikas who came out on top, snapping a wrist shot high over the blocker side of Boston’s star netminder.
For Cizikas, who has spent a decade with the Islanders grinding away on that fourth line, it was his first goal since April 1 of the regular season and his first postseason goal since netting one in Game 4 of the 2015 first round against the Washington Capitals, who were coached by current Islanders bench boss and franchise savior, Barry Trotz.
“It’s been a really long time,” Cizikas admitted. “You’re just trying to do the right thing in overtime, be in the right spots. I was lucky for that puck to pop off in the middle and give me an opportunity to get that one.”
It was a just reward for one of the organization’s most loyal soldiers, who has been on each end of the proverbial spectrum with this franchise that has gone from NHL afterthought to one that working toward methodically becoming one of the more stable, consistent contenders in the Eastern Conference.
“It takes everyone,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey, who is the longest-tenured member of the team, said. ” [Cizikas], I’m so happy for him, he deserves it.”
That sentiment was echoed by Trotz, who certainly sounds glad that he no longer has to face Cizikas as he did during his days in Washington.
“There’s no one who has bigger character in our dressing room and is loved more than Casey,” Trotz said. “He gives everything he’s got shift in and shift out. Total team guy… for him to score a big goal like that, I guarantee you when he came in, our room exploded with guys hugging him.
“That’s what makes this group very special. They love to spend time together, they love playing and being accountable for each other. Everybody is a hero in our room. Casey is one of those guys who does everything for us.”
Usually, everything means grinding out some momentum behind physical play, a strong forecheck, and diligent defense. Monday night, however, provided a reminder that Cizikas can do something special every once in a while with the puck on his stick. After all, he did score 20 goals a few seasons ago.
“You definitely think about [scoring],” Cizikas admitted. “You want to contribute, you want to score goals, but at the end of the day, that’s not our line’s goal. We want to create momentum, havoc… it was definitely nice, but we’re going to keep working.”
With the series knotted at a game apiece, the work shifts to New York where the Islanders host the Bruins for Game 3 on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.