Then again, nothing can be exact about this zany Islanders-Panthers series, including what’s to come in Game 6 – although we know how Isles Country is voting.
That would be cementing the series with Florida with one more victory after one of the most pulsating triumphs in the club’s illustrious history.
It took a power play one-timer by rookie Alan Quine at 16:00 of the second sudden death period in Sunrise, just when the game appeared destined to go on forever.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without one of the most arresting goaltending exhibitions in Isles annals by Thomas Greiss.
You must remember him, the chap once known as a perennial back-up, but now has a mortgage on the starter position.
“Right now there isn’t a better goaltender in the National Hockey League than Greiss,” says MSG Networks Butch Goring.
The German-born netminder underlined Goring’s tribute with 47 saves, many of them with five-star quality.
But for sheer melodrama, nothing could top Greiss stopping Aleksander Barkov on a penalty shot during the first overtime period. The puck-stopper made it look easy as the Florida ace tried to beat him on the right side with a backhander.
“Thomas was fantastic,” adds Rick DiPietro, who knows more than a little about goaltending. “What he did best was control his rebounds. And, this is a guy who never played in playoff hockey. His teammates fed off his great game.”
Teammate Frans Nielsen, who scored the opening goal, knows and respects the Panthers, and expects a tough sixth game.
“We go home and hopefully can wrap it up on Sunday,” says Nielsen.
Rest assured, it will be a mammoth challenge. Despite being on the edge of elimination, the Panthers once again controlled most of the play but were unable to foil Greiss.
If the Isles have any advantage other than their friendly, raucous confines, it’s the fact that coach Jack Capuano can continue to roll four lines. Plus, he had managed to exploit the assets of speedy new forwards.
Quine – virtually unknown to Islanders fans prior to the playoffs – shined on the first line with captain John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
Other featured role players who stepped up include Shane Prince and Steve Bernier, who suddenly have become pivotal assets with fresh legs in this war of attrition.
Prince’s speed was a factor throughout the game and Bernier’s checking ability as well as tenacity, should give the club a boost in Game 6.
And, when it comes to senior citizens, there’s Marek Zidlicky who made the key pass to Quine for the game-winner.
“Zid made a nice feed over to me,” remembers Quine, “and I was just trying to get it on net. I heard post and then I saw the guys celebrating.”
A veteran NHL defenseman, Zidlicky has been in and out of the Islanders lineup all year. Capuano likes his shot from the point and all-around offensive savviness.
“Zid had a good finish to the regular season,” notes Goring, “and he was at his best in Game 5.”
Once again the Islanders were like the branch in the wind which bent but did not break. Not even after Florida gained momentum with the tying goal in the third period.
“With our club it’s all about resiliency,” enthuses Capuano. “Quine is a good example. He showed me his speed and tenacity and fighting for loose pucks. He hunts down pucks for Kyle and John and he doesn’t play safe.”
Just what strategy Cappy plans for the latest chapter in the Isles melodrama is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain, the joint will be jumping long before the opening face-off.
Capuano stated, “Going back is all about our fans and we have to feed off our crowd. We’ll try to close them out if we can. These games can go either way. Hopefully, we’ll be on top.”
And, if the Islanders players need any inspiration, they can rest assured in the knowledge that they went into Sunrise on a Friday night and won one for the ages.
“It was,” concludes MSG Networks Howie Rose, “epic!”
A win for the Brooklynites on Sunday night might very well be Epic Number Two!
Here’s the six-point formula for making it happen:
1. Leave it all out on the ice, win at all costs.
2. Throw pucks and more pucks at Cats goalie Roberto Luongo.
3. Hit every Panther in sight. In Game 5, the Isles physicality wore down their foe.
4. Provide Greiss with more goal support.
5. Feed off the home crowd with passion and urgency.
6. Shoot for rebounds, Luongo’s weakness.