With under three seconds to go in the third period and the Islanders clinging to a one goal lead over Tampa Bay in game four of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, Lightning forward Ryan McDonagh had the puck in the face-off circle to the right of Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov. On the Islanders bench, Head Coach Barry Trotz had to look up at the video screens at Nassau Coliseum because he couldn’t see what was happening.
“I don’t know if you noticed I’m not really that tall,” said Trotz. “Everybody stood up and I tried to take a peek up at the scoreboard real quick and all I saw was (Brock Nelson) sliding and McDonagh turned.”
As Nelson slid, McDonagh spun around to get a backhand shot at the net while Varlamov came out to challenge. Just like Trotz, Islanders forward Matt Martin was on the bench and had to look up at the video screens to see what was happening.
“I saw him kind of do the spin-o-rama and saw the net was wide open and your heart sinks there for a second,” said Martin.
The puck was heading into the net for what would have been the game-tying goal, but Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock was able to swoop in and preserve a 3-2 win for the Islanders to even the series at two games apiece.
Islanders vs Lightning (Series tied 2-2)
Game 1…Sunday June 13th…Islanders 2 Lightning 1…
Game 2…Tuesday June 15th…Lightning 4 Islanders 2…
Game 3…Thursday June 17th…Lightning 2 Islanders 1…
Game 4…Saturday June 19th…Islanders 3 Lightning 2…
Game 5…Monday June 21st…Islanders at Lightning…8pm NBCSN
Game 6…Wednesday June 23rd…Lightning at Islanders…8pm NBCSN
*Game 7…Friday June 25th…Islanders at Lightning…8pm NBCSN
After seeing Pulock make that play, one has to wonder if he ever had any experience between the pipes.
“I played a little goalie in street hockey but that’s it,” said Pulock. “I just tried to make myself big. I saw it coming in and I got a glove on it. It did kind of rattle there and I just tried to take away all the net as much as I could and just push it to the side and just not let it get through me.”
And it was at that moment that after the Islanders had almost let a 3-0 third period lead slip away, that 12,978 fans at “The Barn” (well other than the handful of Lightning fans on hand) could breathe a sigh of relief. After the final couple of seconds ran off the clock, Pulock was mobbed by his teammates.
“You hear the sound of the clock go and all the boys jump on you,” said Pulock. It’s a good feeling.”
“Obviously a hell of a play by Pulls to save the day there,” said Martin.
“What a save by Pully,” said Trotz. “That will be remembered.”
As I sat in the press box watching all of this unfold, it immediately dawned on me that Pulock’s heroics just might have been the single greatest defensive play in Islanders history. Billy Smith’s save on the Rangers’ Bob Brooke in overtime of the 5th and deciding game in the opening round of the 1984 playoffs saved the Islanders’ season and set the stage for Ken Morrow to score the game winning goal that sent the Islanders to the second round.
The Islanders weren’t facing elimination on Saturday night, but without Pulock’s incredible save, the Lightning could have gone on to win in overtime and take a 3-1 series lead.
That would have put the Islanders’ season on life-support.
“The situation that we’re in and how deep we are in the playoffs and how important these games are, there’s probably no situation like this that I’ve had before,” said Pulock. “It feels good to score goals but when you can save a game like that and get the win like that, it’s a good feeling.”
Pulock can certainly bring people out of their seats with his powerful slap shot and he has been a big contributor during the playoffs with four goals. But, Pulock’s defensive game has certainly garnered plenty of attention over the last couple of post-seasons. When the Islanders selected Pulock in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, he had the label in junior hockey and also early in his pro career of being a gifted offensive defenseman.
Maybe Pulock will now get some recognition for his defensive game.
“I think he’s starting to,” said Trotz. “The biggest stage is always the playoffs and if you play well in the playoffs, you’re going to get noticed. I think he’s starting to get the recognition he deserves as a good young player in the league.”
For the third straight round, the Islanders have won a game four to level a series and they head to Tampa for game five on Monday night (8pm NBCSN) off of an electrifying win.
“I would say it was never in doubt,” said Trotz.
There are plenty of people who would beg to differ with that although I think Trotz was clearly trying to make light of the situation. Had it not been for a terrific save by Ryan Pulock and if the Islanders had gone on to lose in overtime, there would have been tremendous doubt if this series would be coming back to Long Island for a game six on Wednesday.
Thanks to Pulock and arguably the best defensive play in team history, the Islanders’ stay at Nassau Coliseum has been extended for at least another game.