TAMPA — The Islanders had to play a majority of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals without center Casey Cizikas, who suffered a detached retina and was ruled out of last season’s playoffs after Game 2 against the Lightning.
Cizikas, the middle man on the Islanders’ fourth “Identity” line, is ready to make up for the lost time.
“It was frustrating,” Cizikas said Saturday ahead of Sunday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at 3 p.m. at Tampa Bay. “I took it hard. You get so far and to kind of have to go out like that, it wasn’t easy. But here we are again, and I’m excited. I think everybody’s excited and we’re ready to go.”
Without Cizikas, the Islanders were missing an element to their physicality and suddenly weren’t as deep down the middle as they usually are. Who knows if he would’ve made a legitimate difference, considering he had just two assists last postseason prior to his injury, but he was certainly a player the Isl anders missed. Michael Dal Colle, who hasn’t played a single game these playoffs, replaced Cizikas in the lineup.
Cizikas was healthy by the start of this season and competed in all 56 games. The 30-year-old finished with seven goals and seven assists. Through 12 playoff games this season, Cizikas has two goals and two assists — including the overtime winner in Game 2 against the Bruins in the second round.
“I think he left a huge hole,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Casey brings penalty killing, he gives grit, he gives you all the late-game situations, he gives you faceoffs. Casey went out early and later on [defenseman Adam] Pelech went out, so those are two pretty big ingredients to what we do.”
Oliver Wahlstrom is still classified as “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury he suffered at the end of the first-round series against the Penguins, according to Trotz, but is “getting very close to being available.”
However, even if Wahlstrom becomes an option, Trotz said there’s no guarantee the rookie will get back into the lineup right away.
“It may be based on play, based on what Tampa is trying to match up and the results that we get,” he said. “Right now, I’m pretty happy with our group, Wally included. It will be a tough decision. But we’ll walk through every situation that we would use a player, how valuable they would be in those situations and how much ice time they may get to do what they do.”
Veteran Travis Zajac, who was acquired from the Devils at the trade deadline along with Kyle Palmieri, has skated in Wahlstrom’s place on the third line. He has a goal and an assist in seven playoff games this season.