After Thomas Greiss earned his first career playoff shutout Saturday night in Game 7 of the Islanders’ second-round playoff series against Philadelphia, coach Barry Trotz decided to give him the starting assignment against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night in Edmonton.
Three Lightning goals in the first 10:46 prompted Trotz to pull Greiss in favor of Semyon Varlamov. Unfortunately for Trotz, changing goaltenders didn’t change much, and the Lightning ended up blowing the Islanders out, 8-2, at Rogers Place. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night.
Varlamov started 14 of the Islanders’ first 15 games in the Toronto bubble, leading the Isles to series victories over the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round and the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 16-team playoffs. But after the Islanders took a 3-1 series lead against the Flyers — with Greiss in net for the 3-2 victory in Game 4 — Trotz started Varlamov in Games 5 and 6 as the Isles tried to close out the series.
But the Islanders lost both of those games in overtime — the second in double OT — and Trotz started Greiss in Game 7. And after the Islanders responded with a dominant 4-0 victory, Trotz went back to Greiss, who brought a 2-1 record, a 1.08 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage in the playoffs into Monday’s game.
“You never want to take anything away from someone who gets a shutout — it’s hard to do in the National Hockey League and it’s hard to do in the playoffs,’’ Trotz said in explaining why he started Greiss on Monday.
However, things did not go well for the 34-year-old German. Brayden Point opened the scoring at 1:14 when he powered his way around Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock, cut across the goal crease and tucked his seventh goal of the postseason around Greiss.
The Isles tied the score on Jordan Eberle’s power-play goal at 4:33, but Tampa Bay retook the lead on a snap shot through a screen by Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman at 8:12.
When former Ranger Ryan McDonagh blasted another snap shot through a screen past Greiss to make it 3-1, Trotz made the change.
“I was just looking to sort of change the narrative of that first period a little bit,’’ Trotz said. “To slow it down.’’
But the change didn’t help the Islanders lift their game. Last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the award again this year, stymied several excellent Islanders scoring chances at his end of the ice. Yanni Gourde scored against Varlamov at 4:03 of the second period and Point added his second of the game, on a power play, at 13:18 of the period to make it 5-1.
Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Gourde (his second of the game) scored for the Lightning in the third period. Nick Leddy scored for the Islanders.
“Really, there’s not a whole lot our goalies could do tonight on a lot of the chances,’’ Trotz said. “We need more help from the five guys in front of them as well.’’