Thomas Greiss Goes From Unheralded To Hero

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SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 22: Goaltender Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders stops a penalty shot by Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers during the first overtime period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BB&T Center on April 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) 768w, 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 627px) 100vw, 627px" />

All Islanders fans know what they have in Thomas Greiss, now the rest of the league is finding out.

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All season long the Islanders have turned to Greiss to give starting goalie Jaroslav Halak a spell, and he has not disappointed. After spinning the goalie wheel the last two decades and coming up on, ‘Lose A Turn’ consistently, the Islanders have finally hit the jackpot. Signing Halak last year proved to be a tremendous acquisition after he had a stellar season in net, leading the Isles to the playoffs. Although he was not exactly stellar in the seven game series loss to the Capitals, injuries clearly hurt the Islanders.

The problem the Isles had consistently last year was backup goaltending. Chad Johnson was supposed to come in and be an upgrade over the average play the Islanders got from Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson; neither of which showed the makings of a future star goalie. So, the team turned to Halak and Johnson for the 2014-2015 season. All season long it was a struggle whenever Halak would get a rest. Unfortunately for the Isles, Johnson wasn’t getting the job done. At the trade deadline Garth Snow made a move for a new backup for Jaroslav Halak. He sent Johnson to Buffalo for Michael Neuvirth. Essentially the two netminders just switched places. Although he played decently, he only appeared in five games. He never really took the town by storm. Neuvirth went 1-3-1 with a 2.94 GAA and an .881 save percentage.

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When the 2015 off-season rolled around, the Islanders decided they needed to go in a different direction in net. Thomas Greiss, who was a career backup, would be joining his third team in three years. We saw Greiss the year before with the Penguins, and although many were not initially familiar with his work, fans thought he was worth a chance. After all, Halak was the main goalie anyway, this guy would be the backup. Greiss had never played more than 25 games in a season.

Everything changed for the 30-year-old German this season. He quickly endeared himself to Islanders fans with his stellar play. Finally, the Islanders had a formidable goalie duo. Although Halak had another good season, he did start to struggle a little mid-season. Greiss easily became a fan favorite because, like a backup QB in the NFL, the grass is always greener on the other side. Greiss found his way between the pipes for consecutive starts before coach Jack Capuano went back to Halak.

When Halak went down toward the end of the season with a serious groin injury, there was Greiss again to pick up the slack. Finally, after parts of seven NHL seasons with four different clubs, the 30-year old goaltender would get his moment in the sun. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go as planned right off the bat, and Greiss lost seven-of-eight. In all eight starts, he let up two or more goals. It seemed like the starting role perhaps wasn’t for him. But, the Isles stuck with him, and their patience paid off. Once he got into a groove, things changed. He wound up winning his last four starts of the season and has carried that super play into the playoffs. Greiss finished the season appearing in a career-high 41 games, going 23-11-4 with a 2.36 GAA and a save percentage of .925. 768w, 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 776px) 100vw, 776px" />

It’s often said that a hot goalie can get you deep into the playoffs. Well, if Greiss isn’t hot, then the word has lost all meaning. Even in games like last night where he let up three goals, he looked superb. The one thing you notice from Greiss that has changed over the course of the playoffs is rebound control. It started in the first overtime game of the Panthers series. He seemed to finally have settled in and he looked calmer. It’s a big stage, and it can be uncomfortable for some players before they get into a groove or look comfortable in net. Well, Greiss is in the groove now and it’s paying dividends.

He has won three straight games for the Islanders. He has a 1.94 GAA with a .941 save percentage in seven games so far this postseason. Greiss is in the first year of a two-year/$3M contract. He outplayed veteran goalie Roberto Luongo in the First Round, and last night he outperformed Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop.

The most interesting thing about Greiss’ play is the way he hasn’t had to make these acrobatic saves that make people think, ‘Okay, there’s no way he can make this save twice.’ Sure, there have been some amazing saves, but for the most part, he has been in the right place at the right time. Greiss is making it look easy.  He has given this team a confidence they seemed to be missing last year. He has been nothing short of a steady, calming presence in the net for the Isles this postseason.

“He’s let us get our game going,” said John Tavares to Newsday. “Once we get our game going, we’re able to finally get him some support.”

Greiss remains humble though.”You try to make the stops when you can, and that’s pretty much it.”

The fact that Halak is nearing a return to play, and there has not been a single thought given to his return speaks volumes about the play of Greiss, who after seven games, has the most saves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far.

Could Greiss’ play lead the Islanders to a fairytale ending in their first season in Brooklyn? It’s still early in the Second Round, but if Greiss keeps playing the way he has, anything is possible.

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