Thomas Greiss’ first playoff start since 2016 couldn’t have gone much better as his heroics goaded by 36 saves backstopped the Islanders to a 3-2 win in Game 4 of their second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers to take a 3-1 series lead.
The netminder’s cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor built over the years was just what was needed as the Flyers bombarded Greiss’ goal. But as chaos often ensued around him, the veteran backup kept it simple.
“Just stop the puck. There’s not much going on,” he said of his mindset. “It’s not rocket science out there.”
Certainly not, but it isn’t as easy as he puts it.
“Tonight, he was outstanding,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Second period, he was unbelievable, third period, he was the same. You talk about key stops at key times, he made them.”
Luckily for him, Brock Nelson scored a pair to spark the Islanders’ attack, which found more success against Greiss’ counterpart and Flyers backup goalie, Brian Elliott, but his latest was the most important and proved to be the game-winner, giving the Islanders a 3-1 lead with a goal in the second half of the third period.
While Trotz provided high praise for his goalie, he was quick to call the Islanders’ Game 4 performance “the worst” they’ve had this postseason — which says a ton about their run considering they won.
As has been customary this series, the Flyers came out with all the jump and had their fair share of Grade-A chances in the first period, but Greiss coupled with some last-ditch defending kept Philadelphia off the board during the first half of the frame.
“We didn’t play our best today and Barry told us that as well,” Nelson said. “Greisser kind of kept us in it and he was a difference-maker. With that, it gives the group a little bit more motivation… We still have to find a way to raise our level.”
Not to be outdone, Elliott had to make a few sterling saves of his own, particularly during an Islanders power play within the final five minutes of the frame including an arm save on a Mathew Barzal one-timer that looked destined for the back of the net.
Just over five minutes into the second, the Flyers came within inches of taking the lead when a shot from Tyler Pitlick, who opened the scoring in Game 3, hit the post with a wrister. Luckily for Greiss, the puck rolled right between his pads.
Less than two minutes later, the Islanders struck through Nelson, who took a pass in between the dots from Josh Bailey — who forced a Flyers turnover at the blue line — and sniped his chance over the shoulder of Elliott.
It was one of just three shots the Islanders were able to record that period, as the Flyers took over after that.
With 4:41 left in the second, Sean Couturier sent a brilliant redirection off a Justin Braun shot across his body with his back turned to goal, guiding it past Greiss, who had no chance. It was the Islanders netminder’s lone blemish of the frame though after facing 17 shots.
The Flyers pressure carried into the third period, but Greiss remained resolute, and another big save played a big part in giving the Islanders the lead.
Moments after his big glove stop on a lunging Claude Giroux backhander, Pageau gave the Islanders the lead with 12:42 left in the game on a breakaway, his initial chance stifled by Elliott before a second whack by the forward forced the puck past the goal line.
“We just had to refocus and look at what was working and what wasn’t working for us,” Pageau said about the Islanders’ turnaround in the third. “Everyone showed up in the third period and brought their best and that’s why we came out on top.”
Less than four minutes later, the Islanders doubled their lead thanks to Nelson’s second, who was the beneficiary of a seamless transition game.
In their defensive zone, Anthony Beauvillier sparked a 2-on-1 rush with a backheeled kick along the boards, sending Nelson away with Bailey.
After the two played catch in on Elliott, Nelson had an easy tap in at point-blank range.
The Flyers nabbed a second with 1:05 left in the game to make it a one-goal game when a shot from the point from Ivan Provarov beat Greiss.
With one more win, the Islanders move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993.