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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

For Islanders and Bruins, it started with Johnny Boychuk

Johnny Boychuk skates during the Islanders' team practice

Johnny Boychuk skates during the Islanders' team practice at Nassau Coliseum on Monday, April 13, 2015. Photo Credit: James Escher

It somehow was fitting that the Islanders clinched a playoff berth thanks to a Bruins loss. Boston's loss before the start of the season was the Islanders' huge gain in the form of the Johnny Boychuk trade. It turned out to be a franchise-changing deal for both sides.

The Islanders are where they are, heading into Game 3 of their opening-round series, thanks in large part to the maturity and strong game that Boychuk brings. He signed a seven-year, $42-million extension in March, committing to the future of the Isles as well as the present.

The Bruins stumbled out of the gate a week after the trade and never recovered, missing the postseason for the first time since 2007. Milan Lucic said this after the lost season in Boston: "I can say for sure the loss of Johnny Boychuk definitely affected me at the start of the year. That was a tough one to get over."

That was Monday. On Wednesday, the Bruins fired general manager Peter Chiarelli, in no small part because of the Boychuk trade, a move forced because of the Bruins' constant salary-cap constraints.

Boychuk told Newsday he saw Lucic's quote. "I really can't even worry about that right now. I have a job to do here," he said. "It's just part of the business. I'm still tight with all those guys up there, but I have to worry about my team. It's my only focus."

It still says something that Boychuk's enthusiasm and attitude were so much a cornerstone in Boston that the vaunted Bruins could not recover from his sudden departure. And the fact that he quickly brought that same positive outlook to the Islanders -- Boychuk scored their first goal of the season in Raleigh on Oct. 10 -- played a very big part in their best regular season since 1984-85.

And just to show that Boychuk's "roll with it" demeanor is no ruse, consider what he and his family went through during his first months on Long Island.

After his wife and infant daughters got sick in November, the Long Island house the Boychuks were renting was discovered to be ridden with mold.

It didn't dampen his or his family's desire to stay with the Islanders long term. They switched rentals, Boychuk had a career year and he signed his extension.

And now the team he left behind is in disarray.

Hickey takes lumps in stride

Thomas Hickey sometimes appears to be a human pinball on the ice, his relatively diminutive frame (6 feet, 185 pounds) somehow able to withstand the constant punishment of being an NHL defenseman.

Two playoff seasons ago, Jack Capuano and the Islanders coaching staff didn't think Hickey could put up with the extra abuse of the playoffs. Hickey played only two of the six first-round games against the Penguins, subbed out for veterans Radek Martinek and Matt Carkner.

But he has missed only one game in the two seasons since, and Hickey's durability isn't in question anymore.

"We've all grown as players since then, myself included," said Hickey, who on April 7 in Philadelphia became the 100th player in Isles history to play 200 games. "Part of my game is to take a licking and keep on going. I pride myself on that. I understand how to take care of my body so it doesn't wear down."

Hickey and Lubomir Visnovsky may be among the smallest defense pairs in the league, but they have the best advanced numbers of the three Islanders pairings through the two playoff games. So as long as Hickey can keep absorbing hits, he'll stay in the lineup this time around.

Grabovski still not 100 percent

Mikhail Grabovski is getting up to speed with his conditioning, having gone through two weeks' worth of hard practices and skates. But after missing two months with a concussion, not even Grabovski is sure he could be fully effective if he were to get into a game this postseason.

"I still feel not great," Grabovski said Friday. "My conditioning is better. But I don't play for two months and I'm still not 100 percent. It's very hard to just jump in for the playoffs."


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