Saturday April 23rd, 2016

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Friday night was packed with NHL playoff action, as the Flyers staved off elimination against the Capitals yet again, the Islanders beat the Panthers in double overtime, the Wild defeated the Stars in a nine-goal overtime thriller and the Sharks advanced to the conference semifinals by knocking out the Kings.

Here is who stood out the most on Friday:

1. Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers

This was the easiest selection of Friday night, and that includes the valiant performance from the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss. Consider that the Flyers were outshot 44–11 (!) and were on the brink of elimination. Then consider the focus and resilience it took for Neuvirth to survive one of the NHL’s most feared offenses providing a merciless barrage of shots. The former Capitals backup haunted his old employer, shutting down Washington’s vaunted offense in a game in which Philadelphia was overwhelmed for the majority of the contest. Forward Wayne Simmonds commented that “he saves our butt sometimes and we save his butt sometimes. He definitely saved ours tonight.”

With two consecutive standout performances, the journeyman goalie has become an X-factor in a series that looked over after a lopsided Game 3. Given the nightmarish playoff history of the Capitals, Game 6 has become necessary viewing for the casual hockey fan and the eternally fearful Washington faithful.

NHL playoffs notes: Sluggish starts may haunt the Capitals

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

In a playoffs defined by the backup goalie, Greiss has emerged as maybe the most impressive second-stringer of the bunch, unless you are partial to the Ducks’ Frederik Andersen. The Isles’ backup stopped an astounding 47 shots during the Islanders’ second-longest game in franchise history, lifting New York to a 3–2 series lead which heads back to Brooklyn for Game 6. The Isles have been waiting for Jaroslav Halak to get healthy for seemingly the entire year, but based on Greiss’s performances in this series, he may be their guy. While Alan Quine’s overtime winner will grasp the headlines and lead the highlight reels until the teams drop the puck for Game 6, Greiss remains arguably the primary reason the Islanders hold the series lead.

Just one win away from their first playoff series win since 1993, the Islanders may have the playoffs’ hot goaltender to lead them into the second round.

3. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

The Sharks top honors of the night should go to Joonas Donskoi, who scored two goals to propel San Jose to a 6–3 win in a series-clinching Game 5, but let’s hand the honors to Pavelski, who returned from a first-period injury to provide a pivotal insurance goal and propel his team over the hated Kings. Pavelski was easily the most impressive player in a taut series, netting five total goals and anchoring an impressive offensive attack.

Long one of the game’s most underrated players, Pavelski looks like he’s prepared to take San Jose on its first extended playoff run since the 2010–11 season. Sharks and Capitals fans could argue for days over which fan base is the truly tortured one, but each stands in reasonable position to make its long-awaited run to the Stanley Cup Final.

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