TORONTO – Thomas Greiss is playing the best hockey of his career.
Now the New York Islanders backup is poised to get the opportunity of a lifetime.
Greiss is expected to enter the playoffs as the Islanders’ No. 1 man after Jaroslav Halak suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury that will keep him out at least six weeks.
“It’s a big loss for our team,” coach Jack Capuano said before Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs. “Guys are going to get an opportunity now to step in and hopefully can do the job.”
The 30-year-old Greiss entered the night leading the NHL with a .930 save percentage, but his playoff resume includes all of 41 minutes with San Jose in 2010.
While he’s made a strong impression during his first season with the team, there’s clearly a level of the unknown with the Stanley Cup playoffs due to start in five weeks.
“This is maybe something a little bit new for Thomas, too, moving forward,” said Capuano. “I just know the kind of kid he is, the character that he has. He competes hard and that’s what you look for in a goaltender.”
Halak suffered his injury late in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Pittsburgh, when he went into the splits to make a save. Greiss came in for the final four minutes and 22 seconds of the game.
“Thomas went in last night when Jaro got hurt and our guys played hard,” said Capuano. “It doesn’t matter if it’s four minutes or 60 minutes. Our guys have the confidence in our goaltending. But at the end of the day we have to play the hockey that we need to play with the injuries that we have.
“Guys can’t try to put too much pressure on themselves.”
Jean-Francois Berube was recalled from AHL Bridgeport to serve as the backup to Greiss.
The Islanders currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division – just three points back of the Rangers – after winning seven of their last eight games.
Halak was in goal when they lost a seven-game series to Washington last spring and could still return before the end of this season if New York plays well without him.
The coach doesn’t plan to address the situation with his team. He figures that everyone knows what’s at stake right now.
“If you look at the playoff race right now, and how tight it is, I mean we had such a successful road trip and we still didn’t gain any ground,” said Capuano. “There’s a lot up for grabs and it’s a tough division. I think Thomas, knowing him, will embrace the challenge. I think J.F. is champing as well to get in there and play well, like he did the first game after the (all-star) break.
“Both of those guys work extremely hard and they’re going to get an opportunity.”