Great goaltending can sometimes be enough to steal games. The Islanders can thank backup goalie Thomas Greiss for their 5-4 overtime win over the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Martin Luther King Day. His 52 saves were enough along with John Tavares’ second goal of the night to move the Isles ahead of the idle Rangers into the second wildcard. They’re up to 50 points in 45 games after winning a third straight time.
The Islanders were able to beat Carey Price five times on only 24 shots to get a wild road win up north. Tavares scored twice and red hot rookie Mathew Barzal continued his torrid pace with three more points (16th goal, two assists) to give him eight in the last two games. He recorded five in a blowout 7-2 win at New York.
They won due to Greiss, who stood on his head throughout to give the Isles a chance. Twice, they blew two-goal leads in the game. But were able to overcome a dominant Habs attack which fired shots from everywhere on Greiss. For the little used backup, he did a great job given the circumstances. With it being the second game in three days with a third in four Tuesday night at home against the Devils, Greiss was needed to rest starter Jaro Halak.
Before the game was seven minutes old, Barzal had set up Anthony Beauvillier for a goal 1:24 in and beat Price high glove at 6:29 for a 2-0 lead. The emerging leading candidate for the Calder is up to 47 points in 45 games. He is ahead of Canucks sniper Brock Boeser and Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
But before the first period was out, the Habs came back to tie it on goals from Nicolas Deslauriers and Paul Byron 4:09 apart. The Habs outshot the Isles 13-7 in the period.
The second saw the Islanders get only six shots. However, they made the most of their opportunities thanks to goals from Adam Pelech and a shorthanded one from Tavares to once again take a two goal lead.
However, the Canadiens dominated the rest of the period. Using their speed in the neutral zone, they feasted on Islander turnovers to quickly transition. They peppered Greiss with 22 shots in a lopsided stanza except on the scoreboard. It took some extra effort from struggling center Jonathan Drouin to beat Greiss when he put home a rebound at 19:16 from Alex Galchenyuk and Jakub Jerabek. That made it a one goal deficit after two.
With injuries hurting them, the Isles were down to five defensemen in the third with Scott Mayfield exiting the game. Already without regulars Josh Bailey, Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas, a exhausted Islanders team held on in the third as best they can.
Montreal continued to dictate play by outshooting the Isles 19-7. A Pelech holding minor allowed the Canadiens to tie the game up. A failed clear from Tavares led directly to some nice passing from Montreal. Finally, Galchenyuk fed Jeff Petry for a one-timer that went through a Brendan Gallagher screen for a power play goal that made it 4-4 with 6:59 left in regulation. The goal was later credited to Max Pacioretty. The much maligned Montreal captain drew another penalty when Ryan Puloch tripped him up . But the Isles were able to kill the crucial penalty with under three minutes remaining.
In the final minute, Barzal nearly set up the winner with Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle coming close. That line has been one of the hottest since it was put together by coach Doug Weight.
The game went to overtime. In it, it was some determination by Tavares that got it done. After being robbed by Price, he took a Thomas Hickey feed in front and put home his own rebound for his team-leading 24th at 1:51. A great play by a top player.
The Islanders now are streaking at the right time. With three wins in a row, they can keep it going against the Devils at Barclays Center tonight. The Devs have cooled considerably. They’re locked into third place in the Metro Division with 52 points in just 42 games. The games in hand could be a factor. It should be a interesting match.
In another game of curiosity, the slumping Rangers are hosting the Flyers. Four total points separate third place New Jersey from sixth in the division.