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Matt Martin the hitter, fighter and now prolific playoff goal-scorer for Islanders

Matt Martin of the New York Islanders prior

Matt Martin of the New York Islanders prior to Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sept. 3, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

The NHL’s official media site for the Stanley Cup playoffs on Friday promoted Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals with smiling pictures of one star from each team.

For the Lightning, it was defenseman Victor Hedman, former Norris Trophy winner, Norris Trophy finalist four years in a row and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft – behind only John Tavares.

For the Islanders, it was Matt Martin.

Wait, Matt Martin, former fifth-round draft choice? Matt Martin, who before this season had one goal in 38 career playoff games? Matt Martin, best known for hits, fights and being Boomer Esiason’s son-in-law?

Yes, that Matt Martin. And why not?

Entering a game the Islanders had to win, trailing the Lightning in the series, 2-0, Martin had been among their most productive players through 18 postseason games.

He had five goals, including the only one in the Islanders’ 2-1 loss in Game 2 on Wednesday, matching his total for the entire regular season.

His regular-season high in an 11-year NHL career – nine with the Islanders and two with the Maple Leafs – is 10. Over the last three seasons, he has scored three, six and five.

For his career in the regular season, he has 61 goals, 70 assists, 946 penalty minutes and 2,987 hits.

And yet, here he is, contributing in ways one does not usually expect of him.

His linemate, Cal Clutterbuck, was not a fan of the way a question about Martin was posed on Thursday, in that it began by acknowledging his usual lack of scoring punch.

“First of all, I don’t think he gets enough credit for the way he plays the game,” Clutterbuck said. “Even just in the question, it’s kind of prefaced that he’s not known to score goals, obviously. But he’s more talented than people think.

“I think he’s getting to the interior. He’s getting to the front of the net. You look where he’s scored his goals, he’s a large body that’s difficult to move. He’s getting there and pucks are finding him. So good on him for helping us out.”

Martin does not possess a skill set that causes hockey mavens to swoon the way his teammate, Mathew Barzal, does. One is a dynamic skater, passer and shooter, the other is not.

But both had five postseason goals entering Game 3. (Barzal also had nine assists, Martin none.)

All that matters now is production, and Martin keeps finding himself in the right place at the right time.

“What I see from Matty Martin [Wednesday] night, he’s playing an honest game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He knows who he is. He’s going to be a physical player. He’s going to stand up for teammates. He’s going to go to the hard areas. He’s going to keep it simple.

“He’s going to have a good forechecking game and he’s committed defensively. You get an honest game from him. He’s not going to dangle you or try you one-on-one and all that.”

Trotz said Martin is well-suited to the grind of playoff-style hockey.

"Sometimes you have to get out of what you do in the regular season and play a little bit more of a blue-collar type of game, because there’s no time and space,” he said.

“Everybody has to understand what their strengths are but also they have to understand how the game has to be played in that moment . . . Matty’s making good decisions all over the ice and playing his game.”

Martin and his wife, Sydney, welcomed their first child, daughter Windsor, on July 14, 12 days before he left for the NHL’s postseason bubble in Toronto.

It is an open question whether Martin will be back for another season with the Islanders. He is a free agent to be, and at 31 is not getting any younger - or faster.

But what team wouldn’t want a big-time goal scorer like him back?

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