Martin-Cizikas-McDonald line sparks Islanders
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It might turn out to be just one good, productive shift in an otherwise unproductive season, because even with Thursday night's 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers, the Islanders are among a gaggle of teams on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
But the opening shift of the second period at Madison Square Garden Thursday night meant the world to the Islanders. Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald got the call to open the second period after as dismal a first as the Islanders have played this season -- so bad that assistant coach Doug Weight gave a paint-peeler of a speech during the intermission.
Playing against a top Rangers line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, the Isles' pluggers cycled down below the Rangers' goal line, threw their bodies around and produced a goal, by McDonald, to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"It really turned the game around for us," Frans Nielsen said. "Those guys went out and showed how we needed to play against them. If we get the puck in deep and we're aggressive on their D, they'll turn it over.
"Hopefully that's the shift that will turn our whole season around."
At their worst moments of the past few seasons, the Islanders have been a one-line team. John Tavares is the center of that one line, and he certainly was able to take what the Cizikas line did and build on it. Tavares and Brad Boyes scored off the rush 40 seconds apart to give the Isles an out-of-nowhere 3-2 lead in the second, and Tavares finished off a strong night with the shootout clincher.
But even Tavares, who now has eight goals, often has said this Islanders team is nowhere without all of its players moving together. That was evident from the second period on Thursday night. Aside from the work of Cizikas, McDonald and Martin, big defenseman Joe Finley, a healthy scratch in seven of the past eight games, played more minutes (18:58) than either of the top-pair defensemen, Andrew MacDonald (17:40) and Travis Hamonic (18:10).
"It's a full team game, obviously, and we showed why," said Cizikas, who made all of his 12:23 of ice time count. "The first period, we weren't getting pucks deep, we weren't physical. We started doing all that after that shift."
And after Weight's outburst.
"We needed a kick in the butt a little bit," said Evgeni Nabokov, who made 36 saves and two more in the shootout for his first win since Jan. 31. "The boys were battling. I can only imagine what we could be like if we do that for a full game.''
Said Martin, who had nine hits: "We came out really flat, and Dougie came in to make it pretty clear what was at stake if we didn't get it going. We responded well. That's a good team we beat."