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Gibson Playing it Cool With Islanders

After losing a year to injury, Christopher Gibson has looked sharp in two starts for the Islanders

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

Christopher Gibson has been solid in his first two games this season for the Islanders, but what stands out about the goalie's performance has been his composure. 

There are no easy nights for goalies in the NHL, but Gibson has played against some of the league's top talent in his two games, which double as his fifth and sixth career NHL appearances. 

First, the 25-year-old was on the receiving end of a 50-shot barrage in Pittsburgh, including a combined 16 shots from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, three of the NHL's top-11 scorers. 

Fast forward five days and Gibson was staring down a Connor McDavid penalty shot in overtime - this coming after McDavid split the D for a partial breakaway and set up Oscar Klefbom for a one-timer in the slot. 

Gibson has had to settle for a pair of OTLs, but he's given the Islanders a chance to win both games. He wasn't rattled, or star struck, by the big names he's played against, saying he treats everyone as the next shooter rather than an MVP. It's helped him stay cool, especially playing in a pair of big games for the Islanders. 

"I think it's the mental preparation that I've gone through over the years and wanting to be in this spot," Gibson said. "You can't get too overwhelmed. Yes, of course, before games I'm a little more nervous, but once I get in there my nerves seem to calm down and I feel a lot more comfortable."

Video: NYI@EDM: Gibson sprawls to deny McDavid in overtime

Perhaps Gibson's mental fortitude is something he found during a lost year, when a knee injury in Bridgeport sidelined him for nearly the entire 2016-17 season. 

It was a freak injury, the result of a few players falling on his leg during a battle drill and it derailed what looked to be a promising season. Gibson had started the year 6-0-0 for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and was only a couple months removed from making his NHL debut with the Islanders at the end of the 2015-16 campaign. 

"It was definitely a tough year for him," said Ryan Pulock, his roommate in Bridgeport last season. "At his position it's tough. There's a lot of wear and tear on your knees and stuff and when you have to try to recover from that. It takes time and it's frustrating, but obviously he's come back great, had a great year and been really solid for us the two games he's played."

Gibson was devastated at the time, needing to get a second opinion before accepting the fact that he was done in November. Not only was he not playing, he was asking himself if he'd still be able to play at a high level when he returned. 

"Mentally it was really tough," Gibson said. "The first few months to cope with the fact that I'm not playing anymore last year, but once I got the chance to work out my mind went right to coming back and I wanted to come back right away. I had a lot of time to think about things and prepare for this year."

Gibson, who was born in Finland, but calls Montreal home, stayed in Bridgeport for his rehab. He wanted to be close to the team and show his teammates that he was working hard on his recovery. Gibson lived with Ryan Pulock and Kyle Burroughs that season and said they helped keep his spirits up. 

"I had a lot of great people around me who helped me through it and I appreciate everything they did," Gibson said. "They held me back when i needed to be held back and pushed me when I needed to be pushed." 

Gibson re-found his form in the AHL this season, going 18-11-3 with the Sound Tigers including a dominant stretch where he won eight of nine starts from late October to early December. He was named to the AHL All-Star Classic and at the time of his call-up, he had recorded back-to-back shutouts for the Sound Tigers. 

"His last month has been really good down there and he's continued it," Head Coach Doug Weight said. "It's a confident position right, you're the last line of defense and when you're feeling it, the puck gets bigger and the net gets smaller and Gibby - although a small sample size - he's done a really good job to this point."

Video: NYI@PIT: Gibson preserves shutout with two nice saves

Weight had said Gibson was excellent in both of his two games with the Islanders, stopping 82-of-86 shots in the process.

"He's warranted getting some serious action and some serious consideration for Sunday," Weight said. 

Pulock said Gibson's a pretty calm guy off the ice and it carries over to his play on the ice, which he said can have an effect on the team up front. 

"He calms the team down back there because he doesn't have much movement, he makes himself big," Pulock said. "Even a couple years ago against Washington, he kind of did the same thing, came in and was calm back there in his first game and it didn't really seem to bother him. Same thing two games this year."

Gibson couldn't help but smile a little bit after the overtime loss to Pittsburgh, despite the disappointment of allowing Crosby's overtime winner. The smile was just for getting back to the Islanders and delivering a good game after a trying year. With a clear head and a clear goal of sticking around, Gibson is hoping to continue to play well and capitalize on his opportunity. 

"I've wanted to play in the NHL for my entire life and now knowing that I can do that even after the year I had last year, I'm grateful for every moment that I'm here," Gibson said. "That's why I'm excited to come to the rink every day and I have a smile on my face sometimes even when I shouldn't when we're having a tough stretch, but I'm really excited and grateful to be here."

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