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Islanders' Johnny Boychuk shaken by skate blade incident

Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders is injured late

Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders is injured late during the second period against the Maple Leafs at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

So many thoughts flooded through Johnny Boychuk almost immediately after Mitch Marner’s skate blade made contact with his neck.

The Islanders defenseman, 35, was thinking about his father. He was thinking about his wife and children. He was thinking he wanted to be anywhere but on the ice in front of a sellout crowd of 13,917 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum if he truly was gravely injured.

“It was really scary,” Boychuk said a day after the Islanders’ 6-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, sporting a two-inch cut under his cheekbone on the left side of his neck that somehow did not require stitches.

Boychuk, bent over and holding a towel to his neck, went to the Islanders’ room late in the second period but was back on the bench to start the third period, even if, mentally, he wasn’t really ready to play yet. He didn’t take his first shift until 9:34.

“You feel it hit your neck and just thoughts go through your mind,” Boychuk said. “I’m just happy that nothing serious happened.

“In between periods, when I went off, I was in shambles,” the typically-upbeat, extremely talkative Boychuk said. “It was tough to even go out there again in the third and play a couple of shifts. I kept them extremely short. I just wanted to help out in any way.”

Being slashed in the neck with a skate blade ranks very high among the list of a hockey player’s worst fear, probably right along with getting hit in the eye or head with a slap shot.

It always brings back memories of former Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk, who had his carotid artery severed on March 22, 1989.

Interestingly, Malarchuk, in later interviews, also relayed that one of his first thoughts was to be led off the ice because he didn’t want to potentially die in front of everybody in attendance.

“I think he was more shaken up mentally from that because you almost have that near-death experience,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said of Boychuk. “It can shake you up a little bit. It looked like he had seen a ghost. He says there’s so many things that race through your head. You don’t think you’d be laying on the ice in a pool (of blood) trying to hang on. He’s very lucky.”

Traveling less

The Islanders will leave the Eastern time zone just twice more over the final five weeks of the season, with a game at Minnesota on March 17 to conclude a weekend back-to-back that starts with an afternoon game in Detroit and on March 28 at Winnipeg to end a two-game road trip that starts at Columbus.

It’s a pretty favorable schedule for the playoff push.

Then again, it’s no secret that Eastern Conference teams have a far less taxing travel schedule than the Western Conference.

“It’s huge,” said Trotz, who spent the last four seasons in Washington after 15 seasons with Nashville. “One of the reasons I wanted to stay in the East is the travel. If you’re an ‘aging’ coach (Trotz, 56, used his fingers to make air quotes) or an ‘aging’ player, the Eastern Conference travel is a huge advantage. If you’re a player and you want to extend yourself a little bit, the Eastern Conference is probably the way to go. As I’m getting older, I notice it a lot more.”

Trotz added the easier travel schedule can equate to points in the standings.

At the same time, he acknowledged it does make it tougher on the longer trips, like the Islanders’ four-game swing to Nashville and the three California cities in October (1-3-0) or the three-game Western Canada swing last month (1-1-1).

“You out of the mode,” Trotz said. “Just like anything, you get used to traveling. In Nashville we were basically in the East but playing in the Western Conference. One year (2011), we played Anaheim in the first round and then Vancouver in the second round. Every time we got on the plane, it was 3,000 miles.”

Credit due

Trotz had a potential second-period equalizing goal on Thursday overturned for being offside, leaving him 3-0 in offside challenges. He gave all the credit to video coordinator Matt De Mado and assistant video coordinator Corey Smith, both in the first seasons with the Islanders. De Mado joined after six seasons as the Devils video coach and Smith spent the previous two seasons as video coach for Hartford in the Rangers’ organization.

“Props to the video guys,” Trotz said. “I was looking at it and said, ‘Man, that’s real close.’ They got it right. I thought that was a key moment.”

Distinguished company

Center Mathew Barzal has entered the Islanders’ top five for most points before the age of 22. Barzal reaches that birthday on May 26:

1. Bryan Trottier – 290

2. John Tavares – 202

3. Pat LaFontaine –171

4. Denis Potvin – 147

5. Mathew Barzal –137 (through Thursday)

New York Sports