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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

Barry Trotz's choice for third line in playoffs: Michael Dal Colle or Tom Kuhnhackl?

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz talks with the

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz talks with the media after earning his 800th career win on March 5 at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Barry Trotz will not have a plethora of lineup decisions come the playoffs.

Choosing a starting goalie between Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, perhaps on a game-by-game basis, will draw most of the attention. Thomas Hickey is a ready replacement as a seventh defensemen but the Islanders coach seems to have settled on a top six.

Filling out the third line to find that preferred four-line balance may be Trotz’s toughest call with center Valtteri Filppula expected to be out until at least midway through the first round. Now, center Tanner Fritz has missed two straight games with an upper-body injury, leaving Leo Komarov to move into the middle.

Michael Dal Colle is playing right wing on the second line. Tom Kuhnhackl is doing so on the third line. Presuming Fritz’s absence is short term, Trotz may have to decide between Dal Colle and Kuhnhackl.

Both have had long stretches of being a healthy scratch.

Dal Colle had played in five of 13 games through Thursday since his recall from Bridgeport on March 5. Kuhnhackl had been a healthy scratch for five games before entering Thursday night’s lineup at Winnipeg with Fritz unavailable.

Trotz said he trusts them both.

“When we have a decision to make and we’re not sure which way to go, I will lean to the veteran because you know what you’re going to get,” Trotz said. “But, from my standpoint, if I feel confident in the person, it doesn’t really matter.”

Still, Trotz acknowledged that Kuhnhackl’s playoff experience with the Penguins — he played in 47 postseason games from 2016-18 as they won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 — cannot be overlooked.

The 6-2, 196-pound Kuhnhackl and 6-3, 204-pound Dal Colle both use their bodies well and play smart, simple games. Kuhnhackl is a strong penalty killer while Trotz has not used Dal Colle for that.

And neither has provided a ton of offense. Kuhnhackl had four goals and five assists in 31 games and Dal Colle had two goals and three assists in 24.

In that regard, Dal Colle, the fifth overall pick in 2014, has more upside.

“I hope so,” Dal Colle said. “That’s the goal. It’s been up and down this year. The two leagues (NHL and AHL) are really different. In terms of physicality and time with the puck, it’s a big jump. It’s an adjustment going up and down all the time.

“You want to play in the NHL as soon as possible and my path has probably been longer than expected from when I was drafted,” Dal Colle added. “I feel like I’m on the right path. Hopefully, it can turn into being a full-time NHL player soon.”

Reaching 20

Casey Cizikas’ face erupted in a celebratory, primal scream as he slammed his back against the glass and pumped his arms and was mobbed by his teammates after pouncing on a loose puck at the crease and scoring the late third-period equalizer in what turned into the Islanders’ 5-4 win at Winnipeg.

Cizikas was no doubt in the moment as the Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit for the third time. But the bigger picture deserved a celebration as well.

The Energizer Bunny of a fourth-line center, whose career high before this season was nine goals, had just reached the 20-goal plateau.

That’s a milestone for just about any NHL player, other than elite goal scorers such as Alex Ovechkin.

“I think it’s really huge,” Trotz said. “Casey has been a key guy all year. He doesn’t stop. I’m really happy for him. I don’t think he thought 20 goals were in his realm. Casey is probably the one guy that doesn’t have a selfish bone in his body. You get to 19 and every player who plays in the NHL, the first benchmark is, ‘Hey, I got my first goal,’ and the next thing is, ‘Hey, can I ever get to 20?’ I don’t know if he ever thought that way so it’s really good on him.”

Fenov scholarships

Captain Anders Lee has shown often, through words and his annual Kan Jam charity event to benefit families affected by cancer, how deeply his life was impacted through his friendship with the late Fenov Pierre-Louis, who passed away on July 18, 2018 at 17 after an eight-year battle with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer.

This week, Lee announced he has established scholarships in Pierre-Louis’ memory for incoming college students.

“School and education were so important to Fenov,” Lee said. “With everything he had gone through, he always made an effort to be in classes as much as possible and maintain straight As. It’s pretty inspiring by him and we wanted to continue to honor him.”

More information can be found at www.jamkancerinthekan.com/fenov-scholarships/

Coming back

Through Thursday, there had been 497 comeback wins in the NHL this season, the seventh-most in league history. The Islanders have 18 after their stirring victory at Winnipeg. Here are the details:

March 28 at Winnipeg – Beat Jets, 5-4, after trailing 2-0 in the first period, 3-1 in the second period and 4-2 in the third period

March 23 at Philadelphia – Beat Flyers, 4-2, after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Feb. 28 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum – Beat Maple Leafs, 6-1, after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Feb. 9 at Barclays Center – Beat Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime after trailing 2-0 in the second period

Feb. 7 at New Jersey – Beat Devils, 2-1, in a shootout after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Feb. 2 at Coliseum – Beat Kings, 4-2, after trailing 2-1 in the third period

Jan. 10 at Madison Square Garden – Beat Rangers, 4-3, after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Jan. 5 at St. Louis – Beat Blues, 4-3, after trailing 2-0 in the first period

Jan. 3 at Coliseum – Beat Blackhawks, 3-2, in overtime after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Dec. 28 at Barclays – Beat Senators, 6-3, after trailing 2-0 and 3-1 in the second period

Dec. 23 at Dallas – Beat Stars, 3-1, after trailing 1-0 in the second period

Dec. 18 at Arizona – Beat Coyotes, 3-1, after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Dec. 15 at Coliseum – Beat Red Wings, 4-3, in a shootout after trailing 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period

Dec. 8 at Detroit – Beat Red Wings, 3-2, after trailing 2-0 in the first period

Dec. 1 at Coliseum – Beat Blue Jackets, 3-2, after trailing 2-0 in the second period

Nov. 15 at Barclays – Beat Rangers, 7-5, after trailing 2-0 in the first period

Nov. 13 at Barclays – Beat Canucks, 5-2, after trailing 1-0 in the first period

Nov. 1 at Barclays – Beat Penguins, 3-2, in a shootout after trailing 1-0 in the first period

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