RALEIGH, N.C. — Of all the twists and turns during a tumultuous week for the Islanders, perhaps the greatest possible surprise occurred right at the very end.
Thomas Greiss had a shutout.
And a team that had not had a shutout all season until Thursday got its second in two nights. Go figure.
It was a leap of faith just to start Greiss, whose play had been seen as one of the weakest parts in the Islanders’ orbit, and he responded by blocking all 45 of the Hurricanes’ shots. His performance, along with a clever challenge of an apparent tying goal for Carolina, produced a 3-0 victory Friday and proved that things might not be as bad as they seemed a few days ago.
“We all have to work hard, and tonight Thomas stood on his head and helped us get the two points. He works hard,” said Johnny Boychuk, who is getting stronger all the time and put his team ahead with a blast from the right point at 10:06 of the second period.
Anthony Beauvillier made it 2-0, using his speed to get behind all of the Hurricanes and put the puck past Cam Ward at 12:00 of the third. But he knew his place in this game was nowhere near that of the teammate at the other end of the ice.
“We owed him at least one good game in front of him,” the winger said of the goalie (who was getting treatment after a busy night and was unavailable to reporters, an Islanders spokesman said).
John Tavares was awarded his 30th goal when he was brought down with 32 seconds left on the way toward an empty net.
All told, the Islanders won a second consecutive game for the first time in a month and a day. They also moved a point ahead of Carolina in the ever-changing, white-knuckle race for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
As wild as the race is and as wacky as the week has been — with the “Snow Must Go” movement reaching a crescendo and Doug Weight backing off an apparent dig at Islanders fans — no one could have imagined that Greiss would follow Jaroslav Halak’s 50-save shutout of the Rangers with a shutout of his own. This, after all, is a team that has seen defense and goaltending as twin Achilles’ heels.
Entering the game, Greiss’ .885 save percentage and 4.03 goals-against average both ranked 44th of 44 goalies who had played at least 20 games this season, as listed on quanthockey.com. There was no agonizing or soul-searching by Weight over the decision to start him, though. It was the second night of a back-to-back and it was his turn.
Afterward, Weight said: “He was outstanding. He was a big piece of that win. On the team’s behalf, I think we had the best effort in front of Thomas that we’ve had in about six weeks.”
Choosing to start Greiss was only the first of the coach’s good decisions. He immediately called for a challenge after Jeff Skinner apparently tied the score at 1-1 at 4:00 of the third period. Weight said Boychuk looked at him right away, thinking that the Hurricanes began the sequence by going offside. A check with the video people upstairs confirmed it. The Islanders won the challenge, which was huge.
“It’s going to be 1-1 with 16 minutes left,” Weight said. “In the benches and in the trenches, it was a playoff-type atmosphere. I don’t think it would have changed our demeanor much, but certainly I’m excited that it was overturned.”
Brock Nelson, whose pass set up Boychuk’s goal, said winning the challenge was like scoring a goal. “You kind of feed off that energy,” he said.
But there was no question that the real energizer was the man between the pipes.
“He’s a great guy,” Nelson said of Greiss. “Off the ice, he’s always in good spirits. I don’t think anyone was down on him. I’m sure he still believes in himself, as do we. We’re going to need him down the stretch.”
It felt as if the stretch already has arrived. “It was a four-point game for us,” Beauvillier said. “It was a playoff game.”
Notes & quotes: The game marked the first matchup between Sebastian Aho, Islanders defenseman from Sweden, and Sebastian Aho, unrelated Hurricanes forward from Finland. The latter entered the game as his team’s top scorer. “Their guy is good, too,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said . . . This was Weight’s 100th game as Islanders coach. His 52 wins in his first 99 games were more than any of his predecessors compiled . . . Before Halak’s effort against the Ran gers on Thursday, the Islanders’ most recent 50-save shutout was Jan. 16, 1990, when Glenn Healy stopped all 51 Canucks shots at Nassau Coliseum. At the time, Al Arbour said the goalie’s teammates “should hug him, kiss him and carry him on the plane.”