New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss unquestionably has been their most pleasant surprise of the season.
Greiss, who signed with the Islanders as a free agent last July 1, had career highs in games played (41), games started (38), wins (23) and save percentage (.925). His performance is a big reason the Islanders qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four years.
With No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak still healing from a lower-body injury, the Islanders are turning to Greiss in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers. Greiss is expected to make his first career postseason start in Game 1 on Thursday at BB&T Center (8 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-F, CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).
It's unchartered territory for Greiss, who has one postseason game on his resume. That was in 2010 with the San Jose Sharks.
"I haven't played that much [in the playoffs], but I've been around teams often enough that have made deep playoff runs," said Greiss, who was a member of the Sharks from 2007-13 and backed up Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. "I know the atmosphere and that kind of stuff, so it's not going to be too surprising. It's going to be fun. Both buildings are going to be loud, the fans are going to be into it and the teams are going to be excited with lots of energy."
Greiss is one of three healthy goaltenders available to Islanders coach Jack Capuano, along with Jean-Francois Berube and Christopher Gibson. Each won at least one game for New York down the stretch after Halak was injured in a game against the Penguins on March 8.
But Greiss will get first crack at the job in the playoffs while Halak continues to recover.
"He's worked hard," Capuano said of Greiss. "You're hoping that he can go in there and do the job for us. I thought [Gibson] played well and Berube's played well when he's in there. We've got three guys. Obviously, Halak's out and he's not going to be ready for Florida. Guys are going to get an opportunity.
"Thomas is a competitive kid. The one thing I like about him is he competes hard, he's focused, he goes about his business. When you do that, a lot of times you get rewarded for that, and that's what I'm hoping happens."
Greiss' teammates often remarked about his personality over the course of the regular season and how it sometimes kept them relaxed during tough times. Perhaps they will need that approach now more than ever.
"We've had four guys win us games," captain John Tavares said of the goaltending. "There's not many teams that can say that. No question, Thomas has really had a great year. That first half, he was so crucial for us, and we were able to give him a little bit more support in the second half and play a little more consistent game.
"He's not a character, but he's a little bit of a laid-back guy. He's got a great approach to the game, a great attitude, and he's extremely talented. He's one of the toughest guys I've faced in practice over my career here. No question he's been huge for us. There's really, I don't think, a mindset change for him. He's just got to go out there and play and be confident with us in front of him."
Despite dealing with numerous injuries down the stretch -- defenseman Travis Hamonic could play Thursday for the first time since March 31 -- the Islanders reached 100 points in back-to-back seasons for the first time in three decades. The next obstacle is to win a playoff series for the first time since 1993.
"I think we're all confident," Greiss said. "We had a good year. We know what we're capable of. I think we played well. We've just got to stick together and do it here.
"I think it's exciting. It's going to be a good series. They're a good team over there, but we're a good team too. I think everybody's just going to have a lot of fun and I'm excited for it."