MONTREAL — Even though they led most of the way, the Islanders never seemed to have any sort of control of their game against the Canadiens on Monday night. But thanks to Thomas Greiss and the one-two punch of Mathew Barzal and John Tavares, the Isles’ makeshift lineup pulled out a 5-4 overtime win.
Tavares’ second goal of the night at 1:51 of OT was the winner, but the beleaguered Greiss’ 52 saves were the difference. The Islanders were outshot 56-24.
“We don’t get anywhere close to a win without him,” Adam Pelech said. “For sure we wanted to win this one for what he did the whole game.”
Greiss made only his second start since Dec. 19, and his .882 save percentage and 3.89 goals-against average were the worst in the league for goaltenders with at least 10 starts.
Doug Weight said Greiss has worked hard on his game during Jaroslav Halak’s long run of starts. Greiss said his bye-week getaway helped, too.
“Disney World,” he said. “You stop thinking about hockey for a while, get yourself away for a bit.”
He was back in it almost from the jump on Monday.
Barzal made two wondrous rushes up the ice for goals in the first 6:29, feeding Anthony Beauvillier for the first one before keeping the puck for a nasty top-shelf wrister past Carey Price to give the Isles a 2-0 lead.
“He just does things only a handful of guys can do,” Tavares said of Barzal.
The problem was the Isles didn’t do much of anything else through the rest of the period and the Canadiens pulled even by the 12:10 mark on goals by Nicolas Deslauriers and Paul Byron.
The second period was much the same story. Barzal attempted a pass to Beauvillier that was blocked, but Pelech raced on to the loose puck to snap home his first of the season at 2:37. Tavares scored a shorthanded breakaway goal at 5:36 for a 4-2 lead.
Again, however, the Islanders got swarmed over by the Canadiens, who peppered Greiss with 22 shots in the middle period.
Weight made the call to challenge David Schlemko’s power-play goal at 11:02 for offsides and won as Daniel Carr’s skate was a hair off the ice on the Canadiens’ zone entry a full 53 seconds before the goal, taking it off the board.
Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin swept home a rebound with 43.8 seconds to go in the period, setting the stage for a battle in the third — a period in which the Isles (already down six regulars because of injury) would have to play shorthanded after Scott Mayfield left the game after taking a deflected puck to the throat.
“It’s tough to go down to five D, especially when they’re already pushing the way they were,” Pelech said.
Pelech took a hooking minor with 7:33 left in the period and Max Pacioretty tipped home a point shot with 6:59 remaining to tie it.
The Isles had to kill another minor with 4:32 to go and, despite leading nearly the whole night, seemed lucky to get to OT.
Then Tavares beat Price on a second try for the win, the Isles’ third straight. It was only the second victory for Greiss since Thanksgiving.
“You hope these are the kinds of games and wins he can build off,” Weight said. “He’s had some struggles, but this is a game that can build your confidence.”