The last time Ryan Pulock remembers playing goalie was street hockey in Grandview, Manitoba, the rural community where he grew up west of Dauphin, not far from the Saskatchewan border. .
We assume the streets were paved and everything.
Many goaltenders have won Conn Smythe Trophies by leading their teams to the Stanley Cup. But the best save of the playoffs came from Pulock, the underrated 26-year-old New York Islanders defenseman.
With his team frantically holding a 3-2 lead and the chance to tie their Stanley Cup semi-final streak against defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Pulock spread like Chico Resch through the goal mouth. of New York otherwise vacant to steal Ryan McDonagh a second before the end of the game. .
After the puck came to him out of control in the enclave, McDonagh made a spin-o-rama move that beat Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov but couldn’t beat Pulock, who blocked the defenseman’s backhand. of the Lightning and guided the rebounding puck to the side of the net.
“I played a little goalie in street hockey, but that’s about it,” Pulock, 26, told reporters after the biggest stoppage of his career. “I just tried to get big. I saw him come in and put a glove on it. It made a bit of noise there and I just tried to pull out all the net as much as I could and push it to the side and not let it go through me.
“You hear the sound of the clock and all the boys jump on you, that’s a good feeling.”
Saved by the Bell. He preserved a win and helped the Islanders to level the series 2-2 after New York, which was exceptional in a three-goal second period, faltered early in the third when Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson scored goals three minutes apart to crack a 3-0 deficit to just one goal.
“I actually was looking on the Jumbotron and saw (McDonagh) sort of spin-o-rama and saw the net was wide open, and your heart sank in it for a second.” Islanders wrecking winger Matt Martin said. after scoring what turned out to be the winning goal. “One hell of a Pools play to kind of save the day there. It’s the kind of desperation that all of our Ds play with, I think all of our players play with in general. A huge game. ”
New York forward Josh Bailey, who scored during the second period push but also had a weak check on Johnson before his goal, said of Pulock: “It’s a special game. . I think it was just a great game on her part – a game that saves the game, obviously. Huge.”
Yes it was. You’ll see him on best times for years to come – or at least until something gets past him in Game 5 on Monday in Tampa.
But there’s also a certain irony that such a dazzling and unusual game shines the spotlight on Pulock, whose understated but excellent two-way play probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Pulock and his defense partner Adam Pelech draw most of the toughest clashes for coach Barry Trotz. In this series, that means regularly defending against Point and Nikita Kucherov.
Despite the hard work, Pulock posted positive possession numbers during the regular season, including a 51.2 shooting percentage and an expected goal rate of 56.9.
Pulock also has a one-shot bomb on the Islanders’ power play, and over the past four years he’s led New York defenders with 121 points in 274 games. The fact that he only receives modest attention outside of his own market makes Pulock wonderfully symbolic of the Islanders squad, which has no flashy stars beyond Mathew Barzal. but has just played his 46th playoff game in the past three seasons.
The Islanders’ 27 playoff wins in that span are just behind the Lightning’s 28, meaning New York will at least catch up to Tampa if it qualifies for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.
“The biggest scene is always the playoffs, and if you play well in the playoffs, you’re going to get noticed and you’re going to get recognition because these are the toughest games,” Trotz said. “We’ve been in the playoffs here for the last two years, we’ve played a lot of games, so I think (Pulock) is starting to get the recognition he deserves as a good young player in the league. All the other players who play, they get the same recognition because it’s the big stage. You are in the last four teams here.
Varlamov, who stopped Kucherov from the slot with about five and a half minutes to go, was exceptional in the first half when his team were outdone 11-4. The Islanders’ second period was one of their best of the playoffs as they outscored the Lightning, generated 17 shots and scored goals from Bailey, Barzal and Martin.
But while it looked like the Lightning was already on the plane back to Tampa, Point scored at 3:45 of the third period and Johnson at 6:43, prompting Trotz to use a timeout to calm his team down. No one was calm in the dying seconds when Pulock did a “block” for the ages.
“It’s the playoffs and nothing should surprise anyone, really,” Trotz said. “That’s the advantage of our game: we can get you out of your seats until the last minute. “