Special to NYI Hockey Now
Newly hired New Jersey Devils assistant coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Recchi wasn’t surprised that 36-year-old New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk made Islanders head coach Barry Trotz look like a genius. Trotz opted to dress seven defensemen in Game 5 to allow Boychuk back into the lineup for the first time in a month.
“I knew he’d come through for them,” Recchi told NYI Hockey Now Tuesday night.
The New York Islanders veteran leader delivered a retro Johnny Boychuk performance in Game 5 with five hits and a team and game-high six blocked shots that helped the Islanders to a dramatic 2-1 win in double overtime over the Tampa Bay Lightning that staved off elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.
“He lit that fire for them that they needed to stay alive,” said Recchi, who played two seasons (2009-2011) with Boychuk and won a Stanley Cup with the now 36-year-old New York Islanders rearguard and the Boston Bruins in 2011. “He will do anything it takes to win and be there for his teammates no matter what. We don’t win that Cup without the type of sacrifices a guy like Johnny makes.”
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) September 16, 2020
New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle scored the OT winner 12:30 into the second extra frame, but there was no doubt following the game, how big a role Boychuk played in just getting the Islanders to that point.
“He brings a presence for us, he goes out there, he blocks shots, he plays tough,” Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock said after the dramatic win that gave the underdog Islanders hope. “We knew when he was getting his opportunity, he was going to step in and do his job. Big block early on the kill, and just playing hard. That’s what we expect from him, and that’s what he did.”
In the 2011 Cup Final between the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks and specifically Game 7, Boychuk played 20:23 and dished out five hits to emerge into the all or nothing, shutdown defenseman that helped the Bruins hoist the Cup for the first time in 39 years. He then helped them to another Stanley Cup Final in 2013 – playing 41:37 with nine hits in Game 1 – when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
“I could just see the presence he had in the dressing room when I was there and the leader he was becoming,” Recchi recalled. “He was all business on the ice and hit like a freight train but in the dressing room, he kept everyone loose.”
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) September 16, 2020
Former Islanders general manager Garth Snow was more than happy to oblige to what amounted to a salary cap dump for the Bruins prior to the 2014-15 regular season when Boston dealt the rugged defenseman to the Islanders. Snow sent back 2015 and 2016 second-round picks, as well as a conditional third-rounder.
In his six seasons with the Islanders since that trade, Boychuk has emerged into the leader Recchi saw developing back in what was his final season in the NHL. Now Trotz and the current roster are grateful to have a player like Boychuk that can lift a team when they need it most.
“Johnny is one of those unique guys that you come across,” Trotz said following Game 5. “He’s old school, he’s one of the most likable guys that you’re ever going to meet, one of the most committed guys. I think the first shift he blocked two or three shots, he’s got welts all over his body, just gives you everything he has night in and night out. He’s fearless. He’s really a little bit of a leader and father figure for some of the younger guys, he’s always taking care of people around him.”
Johnny Boychuk and the Islanders will try to force a Game 7 tonight at 8 p.m. in Game 6 in Edmonton.