The New York Islanders had a long-awaited breakthrough year, eclipsing 100 points for the first time since the 1983-84 season. They’ll be making their first playoff appearance since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (before that you have to go back to 2006-07 for the last Islanders playoff game), and the Isles will be looking to win their first playoff series since 1992-93. The Islanders rely on their young, talented forwards like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson, and they’ll obviously need them to play well. But contributions will also need to be made by these players if the Islanders are to make noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It’s a tired cliché, but if a goalie gets hot he can almost single-handedly carry a team through the postseason. Halak has plenty of experience in the playoffs, manning the pipes for the Canadiens and Blues in the not-too-distant past. In 23 appearances (21 starts), Halak boasts a .923 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. His Canadiens had a memorable run in the 2010 playoffs, eliminating the No. 1 seed Capitals in the quarterfinals and the No. 2 seed Penguins in the semis before falling to the Flyers. Goaltending and defense were not strong-suits for the Islanders this year (2.73 goals allowed per game, the worst mark among playoff teams), but if Halak can rise to the occasion the Islanders could become a tough out.
Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk
The Islanders are one of the youngest teams in the postseason (only the Lighting and Jets are younger), so naturally they will need their veterans to lead, preferably by example. The Isles have two great blueliners with playoff experience in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Leddy played his first season as an Islander after coming over from the Blackhawks, and he thrived on the top line all season long. He brings 54 games worth of playoff experience to this team. Leddy is a natural fit with defensive partner Johnny Boychuk, as Leddy likes to move the puck and avoid the more physical aspects of the position, while Boychuk picks up the slack. Boychuk, a veteran of 79 playoff games with the Bruins, leads the Isles in blocked shots, and trails only Travis Hamonic in the hits category among Islanders defensemen.
You probably won’t hear his name around a water cooler, but Casey Cizikas will play a crucial role in any potential Isles postseason run. Cizikas skates mainly on the fourth line at even strength, but he’ll get plenty of ice time as a member of the Islanders penalty killing squad. He’s fourth among team forwards in the hits and blocked shots department, and Cizikas is tied for the team lead in faceoffs won at 52.2 percent, with the third most attempts. If these areas aren’t taken care of, the Islanders will be going golfing early.