Cross Checks: Mark Streit

There was an enthusiasm in the voice of Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux we hadn't heard much last season or earlier this season.

But when you’re on a 9-2-1 run and you've rescued a season that began 1-7-0, you’re certainly in a better frame of mind.

"Man, it's been fun," the star center told by phone Monday night.

No time to rest, though, because a weekend home-and-home sweep of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins is already old news and the Chicago Blackhawks are in town Tuesday night, followed by other tough tests with the playoff-desperate Dallas Stars on Thursday and visits from Stanley Cup contenders St. Louis and Los Angeles.

Quite the home stand, indeed, for a Flyers team beginning Tuesday second in the Metropolitan Division but only three points away from the danger zone.

"It's going to be a good test for us," Giroux said. "I think it's good timing for those teams to come to Philly and play us. We're aware that all of those teams have been playing well this year. We need to get those wins if we want to stay in the playoffs. They’re going to be interesting games, and good games, too."

The sweep of the Pens, albeit against a Pittsburgh team missing some key injured players, gave the Flyers an emotional boost.

[+] EnlargeClaude Giroux
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteClaude Giroux has fueled the Flyers' resurgence this season.
"I think anytime you get a couple of wins in a row against a good team, it builds your confidence, you believe a little bit more in your play," said Giroux, the pride of Hearst, Ontario. "Anytime we play Pittsburgh it's always a good game and I thought we did a pretty good job of it."

Kind of amazing this team began the season 1-7-0, right? It's 34-18-7 since then.

"Once we won a couple of games we started getting our confidence back and we started to believe again," said Giroux, who wore the early season struggles heavily as team captain, just as he did last season when the team missed the playoffs.

No coincidence that the Flyers are soaring just as their top player is, with Giroux entering Tuesday tied for fourth in NHL scoring with 69 points (23-46), playing his best hockey in perhaps two years.

A little motivated after being overlooked by Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics?

"A little bit, but I try not to think about it anymore," said Giroux, who was crushed he didn't make the team that would eventually win gold in Sochi. "Obviously, I was disappointed and wanted to go to play for my country. But now that it's over with, I had a chance to get some rest, had a vacation, mentally and physically it was good and hopefully that’s going to help me for the stretch run and the playoffs."

Led by Giroux, the Flyers have been a dangerous offensive outfit and are keeping the opposition on its heels. It’s the kind of fluidity in their game that just wasn't there earlier in the season.

"They can get up and go offensively as good as any team in the league," said Ed Olczyk, who worked a pair of Flyers games for NBC over the past 10 days. "They're playing a much faster game. Their back end, too, is playing much faster which really helps the way that they’re built. That's the one thing that's been very noticeable, they're playing a much faster game. And they're finishing their chances, earlier in the year they were real fragile and weren’t doing that.

"The strength of their team is that they can get and up and go and play a real offensive game but they can also play a slugfest, too. If they find a way to make it, and I believe they will, they become a real dangerous team. The only question I have is whether they can defend enough."

Indeed, the team's Achilles' heel remains the blue-line, although veterans Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit are playing their best hockey of the season right now and the acquisition of Andrew MacDonald has helped stabilize things back there a little.

Still, when push comes to shove, that's going to be their weak spot.

Which is why for the Flyers -- much like the Colorado Avalanche in the West -- it’s about keeping the puck on the stick of their forwards and spending as little time as possible in their own end.

The Flyers looked slow in transition in early October, but since Craig Berube was elevated to head coach three games into the season the club has improved its ability to transition out of its own end.

And it's quite obvious the players on this team are buying what Berube is selling.

"He's good with the players, he really wants to know what we think," said Giroux. "He's really strong on the system and how we play. He's also pretty relaxed behind the bench. People may not think that because of how he was as a player but he's really calm back there."

In a season in which the Eastern Conference appears to be wide open, don’t count out this hard-charging Flyers team, folks.
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Islanders are not simply happy to be here.

Proving that they can be more than just competitive with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders edged the top seed in the East 6-4 in a wild romp at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night to even the series 2-2.

Scoring six goals against a supremely shaky Marc-Andre Fleury, the Isles might also have planted some serious doubt within the Penguins' room about their starting goaltender.

[+] EnlargeJosh Bailey
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsThe Islanders evened up the series at two games apiece on Tuesday.
Fleury has now given up 14 goals in four games this series, leading many to wonder whether veteran backup Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal for Game 5 on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma declined to say who would start, but he didn’t rule out Vokoun as a possibility.

“We’re not going to talk about our starting goaltender for Game 5 right now,” Bylsma said.

It wasn’t just Fleury who gave up questionable goals -- Isles netminder Evgeni Nabokov has a few he’d probably like back as well -- in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining game between two teams trading scoring chances at a frenetic pace.

After seeing leads quickly evaporate in the first two periods, the Islanders rattled off three goals in the final frame. Captain Mark Streit, who finished with three points, tied the game at 3 with his second goal of the game early in the third, and superstar center John Tavares snapped a 4-4 draw to score what would hold up as the game-winner midway through the period.

Tavares stick handled his way to the doorstep and chased his own rebound to beat Fleury’s outstretched pad for a 5-4 lead at 10:11. Fourth-line sparkplug Casey Cizikas added an insurance goal with less than two minutes remaining -- the final display of Fleury’s frustrating night.

Before that bizarre play, in which he was out of position and slow to react to Cizikas cutting to the net, Fleury gave up a real softie to Kyle Okposo in the second period.

Okposo threw the puck at the net from behind the goal line and banked it in off Fleury’s pads at 18:36.

The handful of blunders was eerily reminiscent of last year’s meltdown in the first round of the playoffs, when Fleury surrendered a dizzying 26 goals over six games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We know how he played last year against Philly, but we just want to go get traffic in front of him, get shots, shoot the puck,” Okposo said. “We didn’t shoot the puck enough in the second. We came out in the third, peppered him and got in his kitchen a little bit.”

Rugged forward Matt Martin said the team let Fleury off too easy in Game 1 when he recorded a 5-0 shutout. Since then, they’ve amped up the pressure.

“Game 1, we didn’t test him enough. He had a shutout. Luckily, Game 2 we were able to get some on him and since then, we’ve been able to capitalize on our opportunities,” Martin said. "I think if you take away any goalie’s confidence, it’s hard to make saves.”

By contrast, the Islanders confidence seems to be soaring after Game 4’s victory, one that ensures they’ll get another game at home in front of a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd.

"Game 3 was heartbreaking and we found a way to put it behind us, so the nice thing is that we get another game at home here," Martin said. "The crowd’s been fantastic for us."

Even without top-pair defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who was forced from the game with an upper-body injury in the second period, the Islanders seem encouraged by their chances from here on out.

They’ll take momentum into Game 5 and the knowledge that these Penguins are a beatable team.

Although an inexperienced squad, the Islanders have matured, both from earlier this season and maybe even earlier this series, into one capable of managing the momentum swings and surges within a game.

“We put so much effort into getting here, there was no doubt we wanted to make the most of this opportunity," Tavares said. "We weren’t just satisfied being here. We believe in this room, obviously. ... There are a lot of guys stepping up for us here and that’s what we need.”

Morning jam: Streit lights it up for the Isles

May, 8, 2013

On the ice, the Islanders recorded their 1st home playoff win since 2002 to even their series with the top-seeded Penguins. The Blackhawks beat the Wild and the Senators beat the Canadiens in OT to take 3-1 leads in their respective series. The Sharks became the 1st team to advance to the conference semifinals, beating the Canucks in OT. It was the 1st playoff sweep in Sharks franchise history.

Islanders 6, Penguins 4 (Series tied 2-2)
* Islanders: 1st home playoff win since April 28, 2002 (vs TOR); lost previous 7 home playoff games by combined score of 24-11
* Mark Streit (NYI): 2 goals, 1 assist; 3 career playoff goals, last scored in 2008 postseason
* John Tavares (NYI): game-winning goal in 3rd period; 6th game-winning goal this season (reg. season and playoffs)
* Evgeni Nabokov (NYI): 27 saves; allowed 3 or more goals in each of his last 7 postseason games
* Sidney Crosby (PIT): Assist; at least one point in each of 3 games he's played in series
* Pascal Dupuis (PIT): 4th goal this postseason; tied for most in playoffs among all players
* Penguins: 0-2 on power play, 6-13 in first 3 games of series
FROM ELIAS: Mark Streit scored two goals and added an assist in the Islanders’ 6–4 victory over the Penguins. Streit was the first defenseman to register three or more points in a playoff game for the Islanders since April 6, 1988, when Denis Potvin did it for the 19th and final time by scoring once and assisting twice in a 4–3 win over the Devils. Streit is only the third defenseman to score more than one goal in a playoff game for the Islanders and he’s the first to do so in 30 years. Potvin racked up 11 multiple-goal games in the playoffs for the Islanders and the last one was on May 3, 1983 against the Bruins, when he scored twice in an 8–3 win. The other Islanders D-man with a multi-goal playoff game was Stefan Persson, who tallied twice in Game 5 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final at Philadelphia.

Blackhawks 3, Wild 0 (Blackhawks lead series 3-1)
* Blackhawks: won 5 of last 6 meetings (reg. season and playoffs) vs Wild (lost last game)
* Patrick Sharp (CHI): 2 goals; 2nd multi-goal game this postseason, 6th multi-goal game in playoff career
* Corey Crawford (CHI): 25 saves; 2nd career playoff shutout, 1st in last 2 postseasons
* Wild: shutout in playoff game for 1st time since 2003 postseason (scored at least 1 goal in previous 15 playoff games)
* Wild: lost 6 of last 7 playoff games
FROM ELIAS: Patrick Sharp scored two goals in the Blackhawks’ 3–0 victory against the Wild. It was the second two-goal game of the series for Sharp, who scored twice in Game 2. In the last 20 years the only other Blackhawks player to record two multiple-goal games in one playoff series was Patrick Kane, who did that in Chicago’s second-round matchup with the Canucks in 2009.

Senators 3, Canadiens 2 (Senators lead series 3-1)
* Senators have won 5 straight home games vs Canadiens dating back to last season (including regular season)
* Kyle Turris: 2 of 4 career playoff goals have come in overtime
* Senators have won 6 straight Game 5s when holding a 3-1 series lead
* Canadiens: trailed 3-1 in Conference Quarterfinals in 2010 vs Capitals; won final 3 games
FROM ELIAS: Kyle Turris scored 2:32 into overtime to give the Senators a 3–2 win over the Canadiens and a three-games-to-one lead in their first-round series. It was the second playoff overtime goal for Turris, who scored the extra-time winner in Game 4 of Ottawa’s first-round series against the Rangers last year. Turris and Daniel Alfredsson are the only players in Senators history to score a pair of playoff overtime goals. Alfredsson, who assisted on Ottawa’s score-tying goal with 22.6 seconds remaining in the third period of Tuesday’s game, scored both of his playoff overtime goals against the Sabres (in 1997 and 2007).

Sharks 4, Canucks 3 (OT) (Sharks win series 4-0)
* Sharks: 1st playoff series sweep in franchise history
* Sharks: won all 7 meetings vs Canucks this season (regular season and playoffs)
* Patrick Marleau (SJ): 14th career playoff game-winning goal (first since 2011 playoffs); 3rd career OT playoff goal (first since 2010)
* Canucks: first time being swept since 2001 Western Conference Quarterfinals vs Colorado
With the trade deadline less than a month away and the playoff picture beginning to form in the Eastern Conference, Islanders defenseman Mark Streit has been a name that has surfaced repeatedly as an enticing option for teams looking to bolster their blue line.

But it appears unlikely that the Islanders will part ways with their captain as multiple sources confirmed to that the team and Streit’s agent have been engaged in talks to reach a new deal for the 35-year-old veteran.

Both sources indicated that the discussions are still in the preliminary stages but that the dialogue remains open between the two sides.

Streit, who inked a five-year, $20.5 million deal back in 2008, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

And while he would likely have a significant number of suitors -- particularly with the dearth of puck-moving defensemen available at the trade deadline -- Streit is interested in staying on Long Island and helping the team back to the playoffs.

“Everyone knows I like it here,” Streit told before last week’s Islanders-Rangers game at Nassau Coliseum. “The locker room is great, the living on Long Island, so we’ll see.”

“For me what’s important is where I live, the environment I’m in, the people I work with -- that’s important to me. The time I’ve spent here, it’s just flown by,” Streit continued. “The organization treats the players well and the locker room is great. We have good chemistry with the guys, so you know the best thing to be successful for this team is to make the playoffs. It’s been a long ride -- sometimes tough because we didn’t make the playoffs -- but there is progress and we’re moving in the right direction.”

The Islanders have not secured a postseason berth the past five seasons although they are fighting hard to climb back into the mix during this lockout-shortened season. Following Thursday’s 2-0 shutout win against the Lightning, the Isles are in 10th place, only three points behind the 8th-place Winnipeg Jets.

If they are able to squeak in, they’ll likely need Streit to do it. Anchoring their back end, Streit leads the team’s defensemen in scoring (four goals, 10 assists) and ice time (25:01 per game).

It is still possible that Streit could be moved if the Islanders tank in the weeks leading up to the deadline. But, with the lack of separation in the bottom half of the standings, it appears unlikely they could fall completely out of reach or encounter a scenario in which general manager Garth Snow identifies himself as a clear seller.

But Streit isn’t wasting time contemplating the many scenarios that could unfold.

With a playoff spot still up for grabs and his team still in the mix, he wants to minimize distractions as much as possible and focus on the task at hand.

“For me, the focus right now is on hockey and helping the team,” Streit said. “Especially for me as captain, I don’t want to have any distractions. I just want to play, win hockey games, and play as good as possible.”