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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

The Islanders should start Thomas Greiss in net for Game 7 vs. Flyers

Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders skates

Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders skates out onto the ice prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena on August 30, 2020 in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

How did Thomas Greiss perform so well after not starting a game since March, and not starting a playoff game since 2016?

“It’s got to be difficult, but still, you seem like a machine out there,” a reporter said on Sunday. “It seems like you’re always calm. What’s going through your head in a start like this?”

Said the goaltending sage, “Just stop the puck. There’s not much else going on. It’s not rocket science out there.”

Exactly!

Which is why Barry Trotz should go the simple, not-rocket-science route and start Greiss over Semyon Varlamov for the Islanders on Saturday night in Game 7 of a second-round playoff series against the Flyers.

Has Varlamov been awful? Hardly, and the Islanders might well be home already if not for Varly’s heroics early in the postseason, including a team-record playoff scoreless stretch of 138 minutes, 17 seconds.

But if the coach has been honest with us in saying that he considers both goalies to be equally good options and if he has been honest that “feel” is a big part of such decisions, the feeling should lead him to Greiss.

There is obvious risk in a change that momentous in this momentous of a spot, but the laconic Greiss is not likely to be afraid, or so much as raise an eyebrow.

On and off the ice, he seems preternaturally imperturbable. And he is no novice. At age 34, Greiss has been around.

Two weeks past his 20th birthday, he started for overmatched Germany against Canada in the 2006 Olympics and made 35 saves in a 5-1 loss.

Plus, he has been sharp when given the chance in these playoffs. Soon after Varlamov set that goalless mark, he gave up three quick ones to the Flyers in Game 2.

Greiss shut down Philadelphia for the rest of regulation time before being beaten by Philippe Myers in overtime on a long shot that deflected off the shaft of Anders Lee’s stick.

With back-to-back games last weekend, he got the start on Sunday and won Game 4, 3-2, with the second goal coming with 1:05 left after the Flyers pulled their goalie.

It was after that game that Greiss articulated his “not rocket science” philosophy. He also said when asked about Trotz’s goalie decision for Game 5, “Varly’s been playing unreal. I don’t think there’s much debate.”

There is now, after back-to-back overtime losses and after it appeared Trotz was considering yanking Varlamov again after two early goals in Game 6 on Thursday.

When asked about Varlamov after that game, Trotz tried to be both kind and honest, saying, “It was a tough game. He didn’t get a lot of shots, and the start wasn’t great. So, we’ll see.

“I thought he made some timely saves, though. Those are tougher games to play. When you’re on the other end getting a lot of shots, it’s pretty easy to stay in the game . . . But they scored two of the first three [shots], and I let him battle through it. He’s been a big part of it for us.”

On Friday, Trotz said, “Both of them are really good options for me in goal . . . We’re sort of blessed with two pretty good goaltenders. So as I say, any decision that we decide on I think we have both trust with our players and our goaltenders in that situation.”

Translation: Even if Trotz does not turn to this column for lineup guidance, he might be ready to make a move.

“I think we have the utmost confidence in both goalies,” Brock Nelson said on Friday. “Varly obviously has had a tremendous playoffs. He’s been maybe the reason we’re at this point with the opportunity we have. So I think we believe in him.”

They should. But as the Islanders prepare for their biggest game in 27 years, there is reason to believe in Greiss more.

New York Sports