Just moments after Brock Nelson’s power play goal extended the Islanders lead to 3-1 in the second period, Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov had a glorious chance to his team right back to within a goal. He had a wide-open goal and all he had to do was fire it into the net. However, as Barkov was taking the shot, Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock was able to disrupt the play and force the puck over the empty cage.
From there, the Islanders went on to a 5-1 series-clinching win over the Panthers in game four to advance to the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“We had a good little battle going on in front,” said Pulock. “He was kind of able to spin off me and I kind of ended up on the wrong side. He had a wide-open net there and I just tried to make a desperation play and get my stick on his stick and puck. I was pretty fortunate but it ended up being a pretty big play in the game. After that, we really started to take it over.”
Along with a pair of Anthony Beauvillier goals in the first period, the Islanders would take a 3-1 lead into the third and never looked back. Mat Barzal scored his first goal of the series at 10:34 of the third period and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau salted the game away with an empty net goal at 17:17. But there’s no telling how the game could have turned out had Pulock not made that play.
Had it not been for the outstanding goaltending of Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, the Islanders would have had more of a cushion at the time of Pulock’s heroics, so it turned out to be a pivotal play.
“To me it was one of those defining moments,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “You get a break there. They got some great saves on the other side with Bobrovsky on our power play. That was a critical moment and a great play by (Pulock). He saved a goal. That was for sure a four by six open net and he was able to get a stick in there.”
After Nelson’s goal, the last thing that the Islanders wanted to do was give the momentum back to the Panthers. Florida’s Mike Hoffman scored a power play goal late in the second period to cut the Islanders lead to 2-1, so armed with a two-goal lead again, the Isles breathed a big sigh of relief when Pulock was able to make that play against one of the best offensive players on the Panthers.
“That was a huge play at a critical time in the game,” said Barzal. “It would have been 3-2 there. Barkov, their top guy, with an empty net and (Pulock) came over and he was a horse all series. Offensively, he was in the mix and defensively he played hard and used his size and strength. That was a key moment in the game that really tilted the ice.”
Pulock, the Islanders first round pick in 2013, probably doesn’t get enough credit for what he does on the defensive end of the ice. Known for his powerful shot, Pulock led Islanders defensemen in goals (10), assists (25), and points (35) during his third full season in the NHL. He scored a power play goal on a rocket of a shot during the Islanders’ 4-2 win in game two and also notched three assists in the series.
But Pulock is also a force in his own end. He finished the regular season ninth in the NHL with 139 blocked shots and led the Islanders in time on ice 26 times.
Perhaps it’s time to remove the often-used label of “offensive defenseman”.
“Yeah, I try to take pride in my defensive game too and obviously use my shot offensively,” said Pulock. “I think for me and (Adam Pelech) we try to do the best job we can five on five against some of those top lines and when you can make those plays and those big defensive plays, it kind of gives you that confidence to keep going.”
And that’s exactly what Ryan Pulock and the Islanders want to do…keep going…in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ve punched their ticket to the traditional first round of the postseason and Pulock is a big reason why.