Brock Nelson scores twice, Thomas Greiss makes 36 saves as Islanders take 3-1 series lead over Flyers
Barry Trotz didn’t hide his assessment. The Islanders played their “worst game” of the postseason.
Yet they beat the Flyers, 3-2, on Sunday night in Game 4 of their second-round series, taking a 3-1 lead and moving a win away from their first berth in the Eastern Conference finals since 1993.
For that, they have Thomas Greiss to thank.
“Just stop the puck,” said Greiss, who was brilliant in making 36 saves in his first start since March 7 after Semyon Varlamov got the nod in the first 12 postseason games. “It’s not rocket science out there.”
His simple approach proved the difference after the teams were tied at 1-1 through two periods. The Islanders have outscored opponents 19-5 in the third period in the postseason.
“Greisser made quite a few big stops to keep us in it,” said Brock Nelson, who scored twice, including what proved to be the winner, as he got the puck back from Josh Bailey on a two-on-one and made it 3-1 at 11:12 of the third period. “That gives the group confidence that we’re still in it and we have a chance to win it going into the third period.”
Game 5 is Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
“The task at hand is we’ve got to win one more game, and that’s the toughest,” Trotz said. “Today we didn’t play well enough to win. That [we won] says a lot about the group.”
In the end, the Islanders were able to capitalize on enough Flyers mistakes. For instance, Jean-Gabriel Pageau got sprung past the defense by defenseman Scott Mayfield’s feed from the neutral zone and made it 2-1 at 7:18 of the third period. The puck just trickled underneath Brian Elliott (30 saves), making his first start in the series in place of Carter Hart.
“There’s no doubt that that’s the difference in tonight’s game,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said of the opportunistic Islanders. “We busted a gut out there. We worked our butts off from the start of the game to the end. We weren’t perfect. Brian gave us a great chance.”
The Flyers made it close at the end as defenseman Ivan Provorov scored with 1:05 left in regulation with Elliott off for an extra skater.
“It wasn’t our best two periods,” Pageau said of the Islanders’ first 40 minutes. “Greisser was really huge in net.”
It gives Trotz an interesting choice for Game 5 after Varlamov made 26 saves in the Islanders’ 3-1 win in Game 3 on Saturday.
After Varlamov allowed three goals on 10 shots and was replaced at 15:09 of the first period in Wednesday’s Game 2, Greiss stopped the first 20 shots he faced in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime loss.
“That was definitely nice,” Greiss said. “Practices and games are difficult. The traffic is hard to simulate in practice. So it was nice to get in there.”
Nelson’s rising wrist shot over Elliott’s blocker made it 1-0 at 6:52 of the second period. But the Flyers took the final 12 shots of the period and outshot the Islanders 17-3 in the middle 20 minutes. Sean Couturier deflected defenseman Justin Braun’s point shot to tie the score at 1-1 at 15:19.
Greiss kept it even, though, making a glove save on Claude Giroux at 17:25 of the second period and using his glove to knock aside Kevin Hayes’ in-tight shot after the Flyers won the ensuing faceoff. Then he turned aside James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek’s rebound try with 10 seconds to go.
Greiss also stopped Hayes’ backhand at 1:45 of the first period. Elliott made nine of his 18 first-period saves on the Islanders’ lone power play.