Nabokov looking for a long run

For the Islanders to make an extended postseason run, they're going to need solid goaltending from their reliable veteran backstop

Wednesday, 05.1.2013 / 2:24 PM ET / News
By Greg Picker
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Nabokov looking for a long run
For the Islanders to make an extended postseason run, they\'re going to need solid goaltending from their reliable veteran backstop
Evgeni Nabokov will be looking for redemption on Jarome Iginla (right), who captained the Calgary team that knocked Nabokov's Sharks out of the playoffs in 2004 (Photo: Getty Images)

A common theme every spring when the NHL playoffs come around is hot goaltending. Most years the squad that lifts the Stanley Cup in June had a goaltender who stole more than a few games during a two-month span. For Evgeni Nabokov and the Islanders, that hopeful run begins Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

The second-year Islander has more playoff experience than any other member of the team. While with the San Jose Sharks from 2000-10, Nabokov appeared in 80 playoff games. Although the Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan native has never played in the Stanley Cup Finals, he has shown what it takes for a goaltender to bring his team on an extended playoff run. Nabokov has played 11 or more playoff games five times in his career, including two trips to the Conference Finals.

One of those Conference Finals appearances was in 2004, possibly Nabokov’s best postseason to date. Although Nabokov’s Sharks fell to Calgary in six games, Nabokov’s 1.71 GAA and .935 SV% led all goaltenders that played in 10 or more games that postseason.

Islanders Captain Mark Streit knows how instrumental Nabokov has been to the team’s success this season. The netminder posted 23 wins during the regular season, one shy of the league lead, and will be essential to the squad’s hopes of a deep playoff run.

“Certainly, Nabby is a big part of our team,” Streit said. “He played unbelievably strong this year and he’s going to play the same way in the playoffs.”

But goaltending success is a product of more than just the guy between the pipes. All five skaters play a key role in keeping the puck out of the net.

“He makes the key saves for us and we’ve got to make sure to play well in front of him,” Streit said. “We have to box out and take care of the rebounds to help him out.”

Following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals each season, the Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the player who is most valuable for his team throughout the entire postseason. The last two winners have been goalies, including 2012 recipient Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, whose 1.40 GAA and .946 SV% in 20 games earned him the prestigious honor.

Much like the Islanders this season, Quick’s Kings were the No. 8 seed and faced a powerhouse team in the first round. The Kings beat Vancouver in five games, holding the Canucks to two or fewer goals in each of their four wins.

Islanders forward Matt Moulson is Quick’s brother-in-law. Moulson had a vested interest in the Kings run to the Stanley Cup and believes Nabokov can take control like Quick did.

“I think any championship team you need your goalie to play well,” Moulson said. “We’ve relied on him a lot during the regular season and I’m sure it will be no different in the playoffs. He’s been there every step of the way for us and we wouldn’t be in a playoff spot if he wasn’t back there backstopping us.”

It’s not just on the ice that the Islanders can look to Nabokov for help. Head Coach Jack Capuano maintains that Nabokov’s presence in the locker room will provide a boost to the fairly inexperienced squad in the playoffs.

“I think he’s an extension of the coaching staff. He’s the guy that can settle the room down,” Capuano said. “Over the last couple of days we’ve had some real good meetings with our hockey club and he’s been really vocal about his experience.”

Of course, to have any sort of shot at winning the Stanley Cup, it needs to start in the first round. Nabokov and the Islanders begin their quest for the team’s fifth Stanley Cup at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

SCHEDULE

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AWAY
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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 74 46 20 8 195 162 100
2 NYR 72 46 19 7 219 167 99
3 TBL 74 46 21 7 242 191 99
4 NYI 74 44 25 5 226 205 93
5 PIT 73 40 22 11 202 181 91
6 DET 72 39 21 12 208 195 90
7 WSH 73 39 24 10 212 180 88
8 OTT 72 37 24 11 212 190 85
9 BOS 73 36 25 12 193 190 84
10 FLA 73 33 26 14 180 201 80
11 PHI 75 30 29 16 196 216 76
12 NJD 73 31 31 11 164 186 73
13 CBJ 73 34 35 4 198 228 72
14 CAR 72 26 36 10 165 199 62
15 TOR 74 27 41 6 193 237 60
16 BUF 73 20 46 7 138 245 47

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 74 34 40 2 74
K. Okposo 52 15 31 -7 46
R. Strome 73 15 30 19 45
B. Nelson 74 18 22 9 40
F. Nielsen 73 12 28 9 40
A. Lee 68 23 16 15 39
J. Bailey 62 15 22 8 37
J. Boychuk 64 7 25 12 32
N. Leddy 70 10 19 18 29
T. Hamonic 64 5 24 15 29
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 35 15 2 .914 2.38
C. Johnson 8 8 1 .889 3.08

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