It may have seemed like Casey Cizikas was on the ice for all 60 minutes of Game 4, but he wasn’t.
The Islanders rookie center was integral in four of the team’s five even-strength goals in the 6-4 victory. He earned points on three of the tallies (one goal, two assists), and was jamming away at the puck on another.
His marker with 1:16 remaining turned almost 59 minutes of tight, back-and-forth action into a two-goal win for the Islanders.
In fact, Cizikas only logged 12:00 of ice time Tuesday, not a lot of time to accumulate a plus-4 rating. Matt Martin, who has skated alongside Cizikas for most of the season, as well as the first-round playoff series, says the value the 22-year-old brings can’t be measured, especially not in minutes.
“He brings a little bit of energy and grit that the team hasn’t had a whole lot of over the last few years,” Martin said. “He’s an important player to our team and obviously he had a big game last night. I was glad to see him have that kind of success.”
Cizikas’ most important attributes are the energy and spark that he brings to the lineup. In 60 career games, the Toronto native has quickly become a fan favorite for his relentlessness in throwing around his 5’11, 187-pound frame.
“He’s like the Energizer Bunny – he won’t stop,” said Michael Grabner, who skated on Cizikas’ trio for most of Game 4. “The thing about him is he won’t stop skating. He finishes his checks. He gets some offense for us. He’s been a great addition for us this year, in the regular season and playoffs. I think he’s just really hard to play against.”
So when an “energy guy” like Cizikas manages to find the score sheet, fans and players alike feed off the moment. Cizikas goal in the first period of Game 3 brought Nassau Coliseum’s 16,170 faithful to their feet, and his tally to put Game 4 out of reach put the home fans in a frenzy, as it guaranteed at least a Game 6 back on Long Island this Saturday.
“It's nice to put up some points in a game as important as last night. We battled back after letting them score on a couple of quick goals earlier in the night. We scored, we didn't give up and just kept playing our game.”
The Islanders were 11-3-1 this season when Cizikas notched a point. Head Coach Jack Capuano was among those most excited for the rookie center, who posted his first career multi-point game Tuesday.
“All year long, nothing has changed with his game from the moment he stepped on the ice until he got off the ice last night,” Capuano said. “He's a hard-working kid who gives you everything he has. He's a gritty guy, but I like the fact that he's adding some offense now to our hockey team.”
Martin said that one thing his line makes a point to do every night is make their 11-13 minutes of ice time stand out and feel more like 18-20 to the opposing team. Martin, Cizikas and Grabner combined for 15 of New York’s 33 hits and a plus-8 rating, with each forward registering between 11-12 minutes of ice time.
“Obviously, we’re not going to play 20 minutes a night, so we have to take advantage of the ice time we do get and make a difference in the game any way we can,” Martin said. “During the playoffs, you see it a lot where the third and fourth lines have to make a difference in a playoff series. Yesterday, we had a big impact on the game. Casey obviously had a huge game and we’re going to need more of that moving forward to keep being successful.”
One of the strengths the Islanders have focused on in this series is their team speed, moving the puck quickly from the defensive end to the offensive zone. That, along with a full team effort to embrace a physical style, has helped the Islanders achieve two comeback wins in the series, as well as outscore Pittsburgh 6-1 in third periods. Even in Game 3’s overtime loss, the Islanders overcame a two-goal deficit to force the extra period.
“I think one advantage of our team is our speed,” Cizikas said. “We have a lot of guys that can skate, that can move and that's something we can use. We're trying to get pucks behind their D and make them turn and I think that's something we've taken advantage of. And everyone is being physical, taking the body. We have 20 guys out on the ice buying in and doing the right things, and that’s led to some wins.”
The Islanders have a chance to grab control of the series as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 at 7:00 Thursday. Game 6 will come back to Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, May 11.
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