SUNRISE, Fla. -- Not long before sunrise in Sunrise, the New York Islanders were in their locker room with just enough energy for high-fives after a 2-1, double-overtime win against the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at BB&T Center.
In a game that began Friday but ended more than hour into Saturday, the players were thanking their goaltender, Thomas Greiss, a man nobody envisioned seven months ago would be in this position, one win from leading the Islanders to their first series victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 23 years.
Greiss, who was signed in July to be Jaroslav Halak's backup, is unquestionably the biggest reason there will be a deafening roar when he leads the Islanders onto the ice for Game 6 at Barclays Center on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), when they can finally end a hex that is beyond any realm of explanation.
Greiss was unquestionably the star of Game 5, making 47 saves, including on Aleksander Barkov's penalty shot 7:19 into the first overtime after officials ruled Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan closed his hand on the puck in his crease. But Greiss, probably the most relaxed player in the room and on the ice, calmly moved to his left and got his pad on Barkov's backhand to keep the Islanders in the fight.
Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss robs Barkov's penalty shot in OT
Greiss wasn't even supposed to be the starting goaltender, not with two years remaining on Halak's contract and not with his lack of experience. But the moment Halak sustained a lower-body injury on March 8 that would sideline him a minimum of six weeks, it was Greiss' job.
He's saved the Islanders on multiple occasions throughout this series, but he was on another level in Game 5. It was the type of performance that separates the teams that move on from the ones that begin their summer vacation.
"I'm seeing pucks just fine," Greiss said. "Couple other games, the puck bounces in. Just one of those days."
Truth be told, it was anything but. It was one of the best performances by an Islanders goaltender in years. Just ask forward Frans Nielsen, who has been with New York for a decade.
"He was big for us for sure," Nielsen said. "It was good to see. You need that, especially at this time of year and playing on the road against a good team. You need those saves. He's been good for us all year. Now with Jaro out, he finally got a chance to really show how good he is. It's great to see."
Video: NYI@FLA: Greiss makes two great stops in double OT
Islanders coach Jack Capuano has never been one to panic in the media, and he was composed when he broke the news of Halak's injury. All Capuano has done since that day is talk up Greiss, arguably New York's most valuable player the first half of the season who is making those who questioned whether he could perform at this time of year look foolish.
"He made some big saves. We had a couple of breakdowns," Capuano said. "The penalty shot, obviously. It was an exciting hockey game. It was going to come down right until the end."
De Haan didn't agree with the call that put the game on Barkov's stick, and he was obviously pleased when Greiss saw to it that it didn't decide the game. All de Haan could do was watch from the bench as Barkov cruised into the Islanders zone for an attempt that if successful would have put New York, not Florida, on the brink of the elimination.
But Greiss said no, stretching his left leg and glove hand to deflect the low shot.
"It was just a reactionary thing. Thomas bailed me out for sure," de Haan said. "He helped us get the [win] tonight."
Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss stones Matheson, covers puck
So did Alan Quine, a rookie forward who wasn't even on the Islanders roster until the final weekend of the regular season. Quine impressed Capuano so much over the last two regular-season games he earned a spot in the postseason lineup.
After the Islanders failed to score on a power play in the first overtime and on one in the second, they knew they couldn't fail Greiss again if they received another man-advantage. When Panthers center Derek MacKenzie took a slashing penalty at 14:31 of the second overtime, Quine seized the opportunity by sending his shot from the right circle past goalie Roberto Luongo to give Greiss the well-deserved win, 16 minutes into the fifth period.
"[Thomas] was focused. He was dialed in for us all game," Quine said. "We knew we needed this one heading back [to New York]."
Florida has little time to figure out how to get back-to-back wins against Greiss if it hopes to extend its season. These are frustrating times for the Panthers, who have outplayed the Islanders for long stretches yet find themselves on the brink.
Video: NYI@FLA, Gm5: Greiss robs Matheson midway through 1st
"I think we're playing good hockey," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm real proud of our guys, we're competing and bouncing. We're just hopefully sooner or later going to get some breaks, and Greiss has been outstanding. He's played solid, he's making big saves.
"Their team played hard tonight. The series has been unbelievably close, and I think Greiss has played real good for them."
Given the talent on the other side, the Islanders know they're in for a fight Sunday. They know if they're finally going to end two-plus decades of frustration, they'll need all hands on deck.
The good news is, they probably don't have to worry about what they'll get from the backup turned savior.
"They're a good team," Capuano said. "They had some chances. This game could have went either way, but I thought Thomas Greiss stood tall for us tonight."