Notice there's nothing in the adage of a hot goaltender leading a deep playoff run needing to be the starter. And after 21 seasons of occasionally peeking their heads into the playoffs, the New York Islanders aren't about to be picky with qualifications.
It's not the goalie they thought it'd be maybe even six weeks ago, but few Islanders fans will be checking the progress of Jaroslav Halak prior to Sunday night's Game 6 against the second-seeded Florida Panthers. Rather, it's Thomas Greiss who has the Islanders in position to reach the second round for the first time since 1993.
The wild-card Islanders can clinch before a home crowd that tuned in with sweaty palms for Friday's 2-1 double-overtime win in Florida. They lost in seven games to Washington last season and in six to Pittsburgh in 2013 for their only playoff appearances since '07.
"This is the first time we're going back with three wins and a chance to close it out at home," Frans Nielsen told the team's official website after scoring his third goal of the series in the first period. "Hopefully we're going to come out and respond the right way."
Alan Quine, who wasn't three months old when New York beat the Penguins in seven games in '93, scored on the power play 16 minutes into the second extra period for his first playoff goal and second overall in his seventh NHL game.
It came after Aleksander Barkov's penalty shot in the first OT was saved by Greiss, marking the third penalty shot ever awarded in a playoff overtime - all were missed. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering Greiss' progress in the series as he takes the spotlight for the injured Halak, who has been out since March 8 because of a groin injury.
The 30-year-old Greiss, who had logged all of 40 playoff minutes before the series, stopped 47 shots in Game 5 and 92 of the last 95 he's faced. He has a 2.09 goals-against average and .938 save percentage over all five contests.
"He was huge for us tonight, big saves all night," Nielsen said. "It definitely gives you a little momentum when he saves a penalty shot."
While Florida feels it is playing well, the team is a loss away from exiting the playoffs in the first round for the fourth time since last winning a postseason series to advance to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
"I think we're playing great hockey," coach Gerard Gallant said. "We're getting great scoring chances. The kid's (Greiss) playing really well. ... Hopefully, sooner or later, we're going to get some breaks."
Four of the five games have been decided by a goal and two have reached overtime, and the Panthers' three one-goal defeats have all included at least one Islanders' power-play goal. New York is 5 for 18 while Florida is 2 for 12, and Gallant's frustration with the overtime call on Derek Mackenzie for slashing was evident.
"Definitely disappointing," Gallant said. "But what do you do? They call penalties and penalties are part of the game. Make a great shot, they score the winning goal. It was a great hockey game."
It was the Panthers' first with Vincent Trocheck after missing 10 games with a foot injury. The center had scored in four straight games and racked up 13 points in 10 contests leading up to the March 29 game in which he was hurt.
Roberto Luongo made 40 saves against his inceptive NHL team and has a 1.66 GAA and .947 save percentage in the four games since allowing five goals in Game 1, but the veteran fell to 2-9 in his last 12 playoff games.