New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello made a blockbuster trade days before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. He acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils in a move that stunned the hockey world at the time but has surely paid off.
While Palmieri has been an offensive machine during this postseason run, Zajac has been equally important in the Islanders making it back to the final four for the second-consecutive season.
He may only have a goal and an assist in his seven postseason games thus far, but Zajac’s two points have come at pivotal times for the Islanders. The first was a secondary assist on Ryan Pulock’s goal in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Zajac’s first postseason game.
He replaced Oliver Wahlstrom after Game 5 of the First Round, due to an injury that has kept him out of the lineup ever since.
The goal gave the Islanders the lead and became the eventual game-winner as they sent Pittsburgh home in six games. Zajac won a crucial faceoff draw in the offensive zone that started the play.
🚀 Pulock 🚀 pic.twitter.com/qC622eDUch
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 26, 2021
While his faceoff win there was critical to the goal, his play earlier in the game stopped Pittsburgh from taking a lead. Zajac was able to get his stick on Kasperi Kapanen’s attempt to push the puck past Ilya Sorokin.
The game was tied at one before his defensive effort and saved what would have been a sure goal for Pittsburgh.
Zajac with the clutch save 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/OtyUzrh1rT
— x – Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) May 26, 2021
In the series clincher against Boston Wednesday night, Zajac got the Islanders on the board early in the first. It had been just the second time in the series that New York had scored the game’s opening goal.
Parked in front, it's Travis Zajac who gets the first goal of Game 6. #StanleyCup
— NHL (@NHL) June 10, 2021
Zajac has played in the postseason before. With 64 postseason games under his belt, Zajac knows what it takes to win hockey games on the sport’s biggest stage.
And for Zajac, it was a monumental moment for the veteran who had spent much of his time with the Islanders watching from the sidelines. The veteran has appeared in only seven of the Islanders’ 12 games in the postseason.
“You want to come, and you want to try and contribute any way possible,” said Zajac following the series win against Boston. “We were coming to a team that made a deep run last year and showed why they are back in the playoffs this year.
“It’s a great group, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
Even after scoring the goal and playing as well as he did, Zajac was quick to praise the guys around him instead of taking any credit for himself.
“It was a great team effort, contributions from everybody throughout the lineup,” He said. “It was an electric atmosphere. It was really fun to be a part of. Proud of the way we battled in the series.”
For Zajac, his career is towards the end rather than the beginning. Over his time in the NHL, he has made the playoffs seven times, coming ever so close to lifting the cup back in 2012 with New Jersey. Right now, Zajac is doing everything he needs to do to give himself and the Islanders the best shot at winning a Cup.
“It says a lot about them. Not only as hockey players, but more as people,” Islanders head coach said while discussing Zajac and Palmieri. “They assimilated with this group very well. They have great personalities, they have great professionalism… I think they’re having a ball.
“They missed the playoffs, they missed the intensity. They’re a part of it now and they’re a big part of it.”
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