Shane Prince has the ability, rare and extremely valuable for a hockey player, to be in the right place at the right time. He showed that twice in the first period Wednesday night when he was just where he needed to be, left of the crease, to fire home two goals. As far as he is concerned, he was just as perfectly positioned at the NHL trading deadline this year.
“I was home, just hanging out with a teammate there,” he said, recalling being in Ottawa on Feb. 29 as a member of the Senators. “One of the assistant GMs called. I was told I was traded.” And that got Prince overjoyed.
As a native of Spencerport, outside of Rochester, he was pumped about where the Islanders are, in his home state, and where they were heading. “They were in a playoff spot at the time. That was the expectation, to make the playoffs, and not only to make the playoffs but to win and go far. There is nothing more exciting than that,” he said after scoring two goals in the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Lightning in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Any more games like Wednesday night, and he will be a Prince of the city (and let’s let slide the trite references to the late artist, Prince). The point is, he is a huge example of how little moves can make a difference to a playoff team. His acquisition for a third-round draft pick was not even a blip on all the trade news. Prince was barely considered a consolation prize for Garth Snow while the Blackhawks landed Andrew Ladd and Dale Weise and the Rangers reeled in Eric Staal.
Yet there was Prince, 23, giving the Islanders a 3-1 lead in the first period and making history. He was the youngest Islander to score two goals in a playoff game since Brad Lauer, now a Lightning assistant coach, did it against the Devils in 1988 (the last series in which the Islanders entered with more regular-season points than the opposition). He was the first to score a pair of first-period playoff goals since Duane Sutter in the second round against the Rangers in 1982.
All of this in his first crack at the postseason. You would think he would be a nervous wreck. You would be wrong. “More excited than anything, this being my first opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. That’s every player’s dream,” he said. “I don’t think there are nerves at all, just excitement.” He has three playoff goals, after having had only three goals all regular season.
Jack Capuano believed in him right away, citing his speed and deceptiveness. “I just think you need to give a guy an opportunity to get in there and play to his strengths,” the coach said.
In this case, that meant being on a line centered by Brock Nelson with Ryan Strome on the other wing. Strome made the pass each time and Nelson began each of the two scoring plays. “It’s a pleasure playing with those two guys,” Prince said. “I’m beyond grateful to be here.”
There he was Wednesday night, on the ice against Lightning veteran and fellow Rochester native Ryan Callahan, with whom he skates in the offseason. There was Prince later, getting a teammate’s tribute from Thomas Greiss: the goalie was making faces, trying to distract Prince as he gave interviews. The young forward was unflappable.
“He’s a good kid. He works hard every day out there on the ice,” Greiss said.
No matter what Prince does the rest of the series or what the Islanders do with their 1-0 lead, his game Wednesday night was another sign that the Islanders know what they’re doing. Maybe being in the playoffs really is a matter of them being in the right place at the right time.