NY Islanders D Robert Bortuzzo made the most out his opportunity with unlikely assist

Apr 27, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14), defenseman Robert
Apr 27, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14), defenseman Robert / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders defenseman Robert Bortuzzo wasn’t expected to be on the ice for moments like Saturday's double overtime game-winning goal. The 35-year-old picking up one of the least likely primary assists in team history on Mathew Barzal's goal surely wasn't expected either.

GM Lou Lamoriello traded a seventh-round pick for the veteran defenseman from the St. Louis Blues when they were down both Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. When they came back, Bortuzzo would presumably be the seventh defenseman, alongside Samuel Bolduc in the press box.

Things changed when Scott Mayfield’s season ended, and come the post-season, head coach Patrick Roy trusted and elected to use Bortuzzo, the only Islander with his name on the Stanley Cup, over Sebastian Aho in the series. Bortuzzo is a tough defender in his own zone but has other limitations, proven by his 0 goals and 0 assists during the regular season. That's hard to do.

“What I love about him is that he brings that stability that we need,” head coach Patrick Roy said after Saturday's 3-2 double OT win. “He’s a big man, he’s tough to play against and it’s nice to see someone be rewarded by the way he’s playing. I thought he had a strong game. Sometimes the plus and minus, they’re not always a fair thing and seeing him being on the ice on that winning goal and put that puck on net, I was happy for him.” 

Leading 2-1 in the third period, Bortuzzo took a penalty that led to the game-tying power-play goal. That mistake didn’t get him benched, and Roy kept rolling him out there in overtime, setting the stage for his first point of the season, which kept the Islanders’ season going.

“I was obviously disappointed. I take a penalty in a big moment there […] It stings," said Bortuzzo. "And then you get a chance to contribute, and one finds the net. It's just a case of sticking with it.”

After 10 seasons in St. Louis, Bortuzzo communicated to Blues' management that he wanted an opportunity to play when it was clear the team was going in a different direction. The Islanders had that opportunity for him in the regular season and things have worked out in a way that the opportunity has extended to the post-season. On Saturday, he made the most out of it.