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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

Wednesday, 05.1.2013 / 2:24 PM ET / News
By Greg Picker
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Nabokov looking for a long run
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.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 49 36 9 4 161 110 76
2 FLA 51 31 15 5 141 112 67
3 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
4 NYR 51 28 18 5 146 132 61
5 BOS 51 27 18 6 149 136 60
6 NYI 49 26 17 6 134 121 58
7 DET 51 25 18 8 125 130 58
8 NJD 52 26 20 6 117 118 58
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10 CAR 53 24 21 8 129 141 56
11 PHI 49 23 18 8 117 128 54
12 MTL 52 24 24 4 137 141 52
13 OTT 52 23 23 6 142 164 52
14 TOR 50 19 22 9 116 134 47
15 BUF 52 21 26 5 119 137 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 46 17 19 -4 36
K. Okposo 47 12 24 -9 36
B. Nelson 49 20 11 1 31
F. Nielsen 49 15 16 -2 31
M. Grabovski 49 9 15 2 24
J. Bailey 48 8 15 5 23
A. Lee 49 7 14 1 21
N. Leddy 49 3 16 -12 19
R. Strome 38 5 13 -6 18
N. Kulemin 49 5 9 6 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 12 10 4 .921 2.18
T. Greiss 13 6 2 .927 2.32
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