All of the Islanders players and coaches are antsy and just want to play another playoff game already. But for defenseman Thomas Hickey, the eagerness to play is even higher.
“I just want to play,’’ Hickey said on Tuesday as the Isles continued to prepare for their as yet undetermined second-round opponent. “I’d rather play a game tonight; I think our whole team would echo that.’’
If coach Barry Trotz and his team are going stir crazy waiting for the Washington-Carolina series to be decided, so they can get back to work, just imagine how Hickey — who’s played one game since March 21, and eight games since Dec. 17— feels.
Hickey, who is expected to step into the lineup in place of the injured Johnny Boychuk whenever the Isles play next, was limited to 40 games in the regular season (0 goals, 4 assists, 33 penalty minutes). An injury in a Dec. 17 game against Colorado caused him to miss 29 games in a row, and when he was finally healthy, the defense was playing so well that Trotz was reluctant to take anyone out of the lineup to put Hickey back in. That made for an incredibly frustrating season for Hickey, 30, who has played 449 NHL games for the Islanders over the past seven seasons.
“It’s tough. I’d never had to do that in my life,’’ he said. “You never go into a season expecting to have to do that. But as far as it goes right now, I’m thankful that I’ve learned how to come off a long break and prepare myself to be ready.’’
Hickey had played in the first 32 games of the season before he was injured when he tried to check Colorado’s Tyson Jost and crashed awkwardly, back-first, into the boards. He went on long term injured reserve and came back for one game, Feb. 26 against Calgary. Then he was a healthy scratch for the next six games, until an injury to Boychuk gave him a chance to play in the next six games. When Boychuk was healthy again, Hickey was again out of the lineup, and he missed seven of the last eight games. His last appearance was April 4 in the second-to-last game of the season, against Florida.
“He’s been waiting for a while,’’ Trotz said. “Obviously, he didn’t play too many games [after the injury]. When he got the OK [to return], we were going pretty well. I liked our pairs. He gets an opportunity [now]. That’s the great thing about having depth. When you go to depth, you go from losing a Johnny Boychuk to putting in a Thomas Hickey. That’s not a bad scenario for us.’’
Hickey, best known for scoring an overtime winner in Game 3 of the Islanders’ 2016 first-round playoff victory over the Florida Panthers, said he understood the situation and the reason why he was sitting out after he got healthy. He promised he’ll be ready to go when the Islanders finally get back on the ice.
“There’s a little bit of a pit in your stomach when you see one of your best buddies get hurt, and Johnny’s out,’’ Hickey said. “But it’s an opportunity for me, and I’m someone who believes in myself. The guys have done a great job, but I felt like I could have played all this time, too.’’
He’ll finally get a chance to show it, even if he’ll have to wait a few more days.