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Leo Komarov has been putting on the hits for the Islanders

The Islanders' Leo Komarov hits Washington Capitals defenseman

The Islanders' Leo Komarov hits Washington Capitals defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler during the second period of an Eastern Conference playoff game in Toronto on Aug. 12, 2020. Credit: AP/Nathan Denette

There were two basic questions that needed to be answered when the Islanders convened for their Phase 3 training camp on July 13: The bigger of the two was who would be the team’s No. 1 goaltender for the NHL's restart; the other was who would be the third member of the third line, playing with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Derick Brassard.

Semyon Varlamov was the answer to the first question. He got the nod in goal over Thomas Greiss and has started every game of the postseason, leading them to a 6-1 record overall, and a 3-0 lead over the Washington Capitals entering Game 4 of the teams’ best-of-seven first round series Tuesday in Toronto.

The other question took a little more time to work itself out, but entering Tuesday, it’s been veteran Leo Komarov who has turned out to be Barry Trotz’ choice as the team’s 12th and final forward.

“In my mind, originally that was probably his spot to lose,’’ Trotz said of Komarov before Tuesday’s game. “He was behind the 8-ball a little bit with the injury, so now that he's caught up… I felt that we need a little more grit on that line, a little more spit, if you will. And Leo provides that.’’

Komarov was unable to practice for most of the Islanders’ training camp on Long Island due to an injury suffered when he was hit in the face with a puck during the informal skating sessions prior to the camp. So Trotz considered Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, Andrew Ladd and others for that final spot.

Kuhnhackl got the first crack at playing with Pageau and Brassard in the series against Florida, but when the Isles failed to close out the Panthers in Game 3 of that series, Trotz inserted Komarov in Game 4. The Isles won 5-1 to advance to the 16-team playoffs, and Komarov had five hits (second to Matt Martin’s six), plus an assist on Pageau’s empty-net goal in the game.

The 5-11, 209-pound Komarov was never a flashy player, and that birdcage mask he’s wearing to protect his face makes him look even less sleek. But he has been an important penalty killer and has added a physical presence since entering the lineup. He had a game-high seven hits in the Game 1 win over Washington, and five more (tied with Scott Mayfield and linemate Brassard for the team high) in the 5-2 win in Game 2.

In the four games he played entering Tuesday, Komarov had 19 hits, second on the team to Martin’s 20. Plus, he and his line had that memorable Tasmanian Devil-type forechecking shift that led to Cal Clutterbuck’s insurance goal late in  Game 2.

“You play it like your last shift, basically, so you just try to give everything you can,’’ Komarov said of his contributions in the physicality department. “And if you can get a small hit and now and then, it probably helps your team in a certain way.’’

New York Sports