Matt Martin was not one of the official “three stars” Saturday in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Avalanche at Barclays Center.
He did not record a goal or an assist. He did not have so much as a shot on goal.
Of the 16 boxes across from his name on the statistics sheet, 14 were blank. His only credits were six hits — his specialty, which led both teams — and a single blocked shot.
But that one block was the biggest play of the afternoon, and a tidy illustration of the Islanders’ unlikely rise to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
Coach Barry Trotz later called it “the TSN Turning Point,” referencing the Canadian TV network’s term for a pivotal moment.
It came with 13 ½ minutes left in regulation in a game the Islanders trailed 2-1.
Goaltender Robin Lehner came far out of his crease to try to beat the Avalanche to the puck, but Mikko Rantanen kept it in the zone. With the net unattended, Johnny Boychuk scrambled to take Lehner’s place.
Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog saw Boychuk there and slid the puck to Nathan MacKinnon, who was coming down the left wing. It was then that Martin, tiring badly near the end of a shift, charged into the picture.
He dived at the puck, poking it away from MacKinnon and out of harm’s way. About 90 seconds later, Josh Bailey scored to tie it.
“The reason it didn’t end up in the back of the net was because of urgency and work ethic coming back,” Trotz said. “It doesn’t happen if Marty sort of takes his time getting back. He was coming back because he knew that something bad might happen if we didn’t make a play. That’s effort.”
Before he had had time to watch a replay, Martin thought it was Nick Leddy who was covering for Lehner. At the time, he had more pressing issues to worry about than the identity of the maskless Islander in goal.
“You just try to sort it out as fast as possible in your mind,” he said. “Obviously, it happened pretty quick . . . MacKinnon kind of opened up on the back door, so it was a pretty easy decision to go for him when I saw the ‘d’ man playing the shot. Luckily, I was able to get back in time.”
Martin, a fan favorite during his original seven seasons as an Islander, has picked up where he left off after spending two seasons with the Maple Leafs.
He credited the fans with an assist on Saturday. It was an unusually large crowd for a Barclays game; 14,216 showed up on Captain America bobblehead day.
“We feed off their energy,” Martin said. “They’re great fans, and for our [fourth] line especially, we feed off that crowd. It was great to have them involved.”
This is setting up to be an interesting spring for Martin. He turns 30 in May, around the time he hopes to help the Islanders mount a postseason run, and in early summer, he is to wed Sydney Esiason, daughter of WFAN host (and avid Rangers fan) Boomer.
In the meantime, he vowed that neither he nor the team will allow a February doldrums letdown.
“Things are going well for us and we’re playing some good hockey,” Martin said. “This is no time to have those dog days. You can’t get comfortable. You just have to continue to pile up points.”
Is he having as much fun as he ever has as an Islander at this time of year?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I think everyone is. I think everyone feels like they’re a big part of what’s going on around there. We do it by committee . . . We always talk about it being a family, but it really is in here, and a brotherhood. Guys are battling for one another.”
And, when necessary, diving.