Scott Mayfield has come long way to play ‘huge’ role for Islanders

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Scott Mayfield scored one of the biggest goals of his team’s season Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup semifinals, but the Islanders defenseman’s vicious cross-check on the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov may turn out to be even more significant.

In the third period of Game 6, Mayfield scored with a timely pinch and a perfectly placed snipe, tying the score at 2-2 and giving the Islanders new life.

“[Mayfield] has been a key part of this team for the past few years in the shutdown role that he plays,” fellow Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock said Thursday morning. “The job he does on the penalty kill and then scoring the big goal that he did — that goal was huge for us.”

But Mayfield’s hit on Kucherov in the first period Wednesday — for which no penalty was called — could alter the balance of Game 7. The Lightning’s star forward did not return to the game Wednesday and his status for Game 7 on Friday in Tampa is in question.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper had no update Thursday on Kucherov, who missed the entire regular season after hip surgery, though it seemed as if the Lightning were preparing to play without their leading postseason scorer.

“If that scenario came about, we have to count on the guy we bring into the lineup,” Cooper said. “This isn’t new for us and you move on. If you’re fortunate enough to win the game, it makes for one hell of a story.”

Mayfield, meanwhile, is playing some of the best hockey of his career. The 28-year-old has been symbolic of the Islanders’ journey this season. He works hard, never gives up and gets rewarded.

Like many Islanders, however, Mayfield struggled before Barry Trotz took over as head coach a little over three years ago.

“I can tell you that when I first got here, I didn’t know anything about Mayfield,” Trotz said. “He had some potential. He was trying to do a little too much, trying to be that offensive defenseman, trying to make plays that weren’t there.”

Even as recently as this year, Mayfield was not playing up to his full potential. His Corsi for percentage (46.7), expected goals against (32.8) and goals for versus goals against (50.0) were all fifth among Islanders defensemen in the regular season. Not very good statistics.

Once the playoffs came around, however, Mayfield — who has two years left on the bargain five-year, $7.25 million contract he signed Jan. 4, 2018 — stepped up his game. He has six points and a plus-12 rating in 18 postseason contests.

“He has length and he has strength. He is a good penalty-killer. He protects the net well,” Trotz said. “Now you are seeing a very good defenseman who plays a hard game and he is playing a lot of minutes for us.”

Whether a crucial penalty kill, a timely fight or the big goal, the big-bodied defenseman can provide it. Mayfield has become the Islanders’ secret weapon — and without him, their season would likely be over.

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