Making his first playoff start at age 30, Thomas Gress made 42 saves, including a brilliant full-stretch leg save on Jaromir Jagr in the final 31 seconds with the Panthers pressing with a sixth attacker.
If a goalie can "steal" a game while giving up four goals, Greiss did it. The Isles were outshot 46-26 and out-attempted 77-42 in an approach that will surely not hold up to win four out of seven.. But Greiss had company as co-hero with Isles captain John Tavares, who had a goal and two assists and could have produced much more in a continuation of his hot finish to the regular season.
The Panthers top six were deadly and terrifying throughout the night, but the Isles' top trio edged them on the scoreboard thanks to timely contributions from the second and third lines, including Ryan Strome's third-period goal that became the game winner.
First Period: Defense? Why Bother?
The first period was frankly fascinating, and chaotic by the standards of a typical conservative opening to a playoff round. There was a bit of caginess, some blown coverage, and some nifty plays as the Islanders twice erased early Panthers one-goal leads. Shots were 16-12 for Florida after 20 minutes.
In his first playoff start, Greiss looked scrambly at times early, though none of the goals in the opening period could be blamed on him.
In the opening, the Isles took their fourth line off just seconds after the opening draw to either fake the Cats or get a power vs. power matchup between the top lines. They later found the Panthers matching fourth-with-fourth to counter any physical tone setting. Befitting a Game 1, no one was passing up chances to deliver hits, though few on either side hit the mark with much accuracy or thunder.
The Panthers opened scoring early, when Johnny Boychuk was caught by a Dmitry Kulikov stretch pass to Jiri Hudler and Calvin de Haan was beaten by the two-on-one pass to Teddy Purcell, who made it 1-0 at 1:55.
The Isles then dodged a bullet when Kyle Okposo took a bad penalty crosschecking Brian Campbell in front of the Panthers net, and Ryan Pulock took Jaromir Jagr down dangerously at the boards at the other end of the rink. Pulock escaped punishment, and the Isles killed that power play off.
The Isles tied it 1-1 at 6:39 on a play for which Boychuk should've received an assist. Boychuk stepped up at center ice to enable a turnover created by Ryan Strome coming in as the second man. Strome's chop, or possibly heads-up pass, found Brock Nelson streaking through the middle of the ice. Roberto Luongo came way out of the crease to cut off the angle, but Nelson still found room to score with his wrister just inside the near post.
That only stood for seven minutes, as Jussi Jokinen deflected in a point shot on a Panthers power play to make it 2-1 at 13:51.
The Isles equalized again on their power play on a great combo by John Tavares and Frans Nielsen. Tavares gained the zone and turned Alex Petrovic inside out as he barreled through the slot. Instead of shooting from there, he slid a backhand pass to Nielsen providing support on the left side. Nielsen roofed it from a bad angle to make it 2-2 at 16:46.
Second Period: Fewer Goals, One Injury Scare, Status Quo
The second started the same way: Florida took an early lead, Reilly Smith pouncing on a Barclays Center-like bounce off the end boards to roof his shot and make it 3-2 at 1:31.
The period was much less of a penalty-, stretch-pass and shot-fest as the teams appeared to settle down a bit and the Isles backed off to provide more support to prevent stretch passes. Several Isles fans survived heart attacks when Tavares took a hard shot off the foot and limped off the ice and to the dressing room. He was back soon though. Hope that doesn't swell overnight.
Matt Martin missed wide on a great chance from the slot, which was indicative:. The Panthers definitely had the better of chances in the middle period.
So, would've been a fair outcome to reach the second intermission with the Panthers up 3-2. But the Isles top line had other ideas. With 21 seconds left, NIelsen forced a turnover behind the Panthers net, Okposo pounced on it and sent a heads-up pass across the crease, and Tavares was all too ready to bury it past an outstretched Luongo.
3-3 after two periods. Greiss had faced 30 shots while Luongo had faced 20. Le pant, le pant.
Third Period: Can't. Breathe.
Tavares and Okposo weren't done.
Two and a half minutes into the third period, Tavares pursued Brian Campbell behind the net and caught up to him at seemingly warp speed. He lifted his stick in the corner, stole the puck, stopped, and delivered to Okposo, who still had to get off a very good high shot from the low faceoff circle. It was 3-2 at 1:33.
Jack Capuano didn't so much play a "hunch" -- well, maybe he did, we may never quite know -- as a refreshing belief in youth, and perhaps a reflection of why Steve Bernier sat so many games this season, when he decided to dress rookie Alan Quine for Game 1.
Quine had played exactly two previous NHL games, both from the weekend, both games the Isles didn't exactly need. But he's bee Bridgeport's most important forward most of the season and he's steadily evolved his game to improve his NHL chances.
So when Quine saw the Panthers in the middle of a line change, he turned on the jets, weaved through and around the defense, and created a great rebound that Shane Prince couldn't catch up to, but which Strome found and swatted home from the low slot.
Suddenly it was 5-3 six minutes into a game where the Isles had chased for the first 40.
That insurance goal did not hold up long. Under a minute later, Boychuk was tepid with his clearance, the Panthers counterattacked from the neutral zone, and Smith snapped his second goal of the game with a vicious wrister off the shaft of Greiss' stick and bar down into the net.
The Panthers then got their first chance to tie it on a controversial penalty. Martin lifted Campbell's stick at center ice and it snapped. The Isles, Capuano and even Pierre McGuire in between benches were furious with the call, as "upward slash" on a feeble composite stick (and with Campbell driving downward) is evidently against the spirit of the popular conventional wisdom that downward stick-breaking slash is punishable slash.
But the Isles were focused and kept the Panthers to only one shot on that power play, albeit a dangerous one that Greiss had to pick up through the shadow of giant Nick Bjugstad.
With the Islanders basically playing prevent for the next 10 minutes, not much happened as the puck bounced and bounced around like it was a Barclays matinee. Jokinen finally gave the Isles a breather by earning a stick-breaking slash of his own on Travis Hamonic's twig.
The Isles, however, frustratingly wasted that power play and were so hesitant that they even let the Panthers get the better two chances. The fourth line actually finished the power play because why not. Cal Clutterbuck had a great chance after the penalty expired when Tavares set him up in the slot for a shot that made Luongo look behind him, but the former Isles goalie had it in his pads.
They conceded too much space in the final 90 seconds to as the Panthers pulled Luongo, and the Isles whiffed on long-range empty-net chances. A Hamonic icing with 11 seconds left gave the Panthers a few more swats at the net, but Greiss was there.
Greiss almighty he was there.
Stomach's all like, "This is Game 1. You haven't even *seen* ulcer yet."— Dominik & LHHFriends (@LHHockey) April 15, 2016
No rest, no time for breath. Game 2 is tomorrow night. Same place, half an hour earlier.