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Richards: Greiss, Islanders poised to oust Panthers

Backup-turned-starter is main reason New York can win series with Game 6 victory, former coach says

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders, has enlisted the help of Todd Richards to break down the action. Richards will be checking in throughout the series.

Richards, 49, was the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2012-15 and the Minnesota Wild from 2009-11.

The Blue Jackets were 127-112-21 under Richards. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2014.

The New York Islanders are one win away from their first series win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993, and former NHL coach Todd Richards feels goaltender Thomas Greiss is the main reason.

Greiss was outstanding again Friday, when he made 47 saves in a 2-1 double-overtime win against the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at BB&T Center. The Islanders can wrap up the series with a win in Game 6 at Barclays Center on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, SUN, MSG+).

As Richards pointed out Saturday, Greiss is giving the Islanders exactly what they've needed from him thus far in this series.

"He's played great," Richards said. "He's given their team a chance to win every night, and that's what you want from your goaltender. He's played great. It's a team effort, but you need certain players to step up. One player you need in a series is you need your goaltender to be good, and he's been good."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss robs Barkov's penalty shot in OT

Greiss' biggest save came 7:19 into the first overtime when he stopped Panthers center Aleksander Barkov's penalty shot. Florida was awarded the penalty shot after Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan was called for closing his hand on the puck in the crease.

"A huge lift," Richards said of the save. "I think de Haan was the one who made the play, and that's just a reactionary play. He's standing there and the puck comes out front in a dangerous situation and you're just going to get it out of there. It's a reactionary play and they get called for it, and the goaltender comes up big for the team. Greiss has done that time after time in this series. He's coming up in big moments making big saves."

Greiss and rookie forward Alan Quine played huge roles in the win Friday; Quine, who wasn't on the Islanders roster until the final weekend of the regular season, scored the game-winner 16 minutes into the second overtime.

Video: NYI@FLA: Greiss makes two great stops in double OT

"You can go back and different teams have different players that step up at different times," Richards said. "It's a credit to the depth of the organization, it's a credit to going out and getting Thomas Greiss. Obviously someone saw something in him. Now he's performing and showing what he can do.

"It's kind of like Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota, a guy who just needed an opportunity, and look at what he's done. This is Thomas Greiss' moment, and he's making the best of this moment."

The Panthers could be without center Nick Bjugstad for Game 6; he left the game early in the second overtime when he crashed face-first into the boards. Florida center Vincent Trocheck was able to make his series debut in Game 5 after missing the first four because of a foot injury, but Bjugstad's absence would hurt.

"It's a big loss, but that's something that the team can rally around," Richards said. "Somebody's going to get some opportunities. As a coach, that's what you tell your players; if somebody goes down, there's opportunities for others and the others have to step up. It's going to be about who is the person going to be, because Bjugstad plays in a lot of situations in big moments. Who is going to step up and fill those shoes?"

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm4: Greiss denies Bjugstad on the doorstep

The Panthers enter Sunday with their season on the line despite outplaying the Islanders for the majority of the series. But Richards believes their spirits shouldn't be low going into Game 6.

"I think that everybody understands that this is playoff hockey," he said. "It is the little things, and it's bounces. Sometimes it's about being a little bit luckier than the other team. Florida's done a lot of good things. As a coach, I think what you sell is, 'I know we're down 3-2, but if we keep doing the right things, it will go our way.' I think the players believe that.

"You can't change the past. Right now they're down 3-2 and going to New York. Sometimes that's a little bit easier, being on the road, because you're focused in what you have to do. I'm sure that the coaches are going to have these guys in tune as far as what they need to do and the veteran players are going to help with that. I'm expecting Florida to go out and play another hard game. That's what they've done all year. That's their identity; they play hard and they play fast."

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