UNIONDALE, N.Y. — New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz had his vision blocked by his players, who were standing at the bench in the final seconds of Game 4, clinging to a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So, he watched on the Jumbotron as Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh executed a spin-o-rama shot that was headed for an open Islanders net. He then watched defenseman Ryan Pulock make the defensive play of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, lurching across the crease, deflecting the puck out of harm’s way with his glove and sending New York’s bench leaping in celebration.
“I would say it was never in doubt,” deadpanned Trotz, whose team tied its NHL semifinal series with the Lightning at 2-2 with the win on Saturday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “It looked like it was going into the net. Puly slid across and saved the day for us.”
The Islanders had a 3-0 lead entering the third period, but the Lightning charged back with goals by Brayden Point — who extended his playoff goal streak to seven games — and Tyler Johnson. It looked like New York might be in the clear when Tampa Bay defenseman took a tripping penalty with 1:12 remaining in regulation, but the Lightning pulled their goalie while shorthanded and generated one more incredible scoring chance.
McDonagh got the puck with four seconds on the clock. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov came far out from his crease to defend the shot. With Brock Nelson sliding in front of him, McDonagh pulled off a spin-o-rama and released a backhand shot. Varlamov had left the net open, but Pulock smartly dove to his right as he saw McDonagh make his move.
“Desperation play by their defenseman,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But to be honest, I thought the play McDonagh made was better than the save. Just to get the puck on the net was a phenomenal play. But give their guy credit. They’re desperate and he came in and made that save. Probably made for some pretty exciting TV, I’ll tell you that.”
Indeed, with 1.9 seconds left in regulation, Pulock blocked the shot on the goal line, preserving the Islanders’ emotional victory.
“That’s a special play,” said winger Josh Bailey, who scored his sixth goal of the playoffs in the win. “The patience to stick with it. It was just a great play by him. Game-saving play, obviously. Huge.”
The buzzer sounded, and Pulock was mobbed by his teammates like he had just scored a game-winner, instead of preventing a trying goal.
“I think everyone’s breath just got taken away when that puck was coming,” said center Mathew Barzal, who also scored his sixth goal in the victory. “I thought that was going in. Just a miraculous play by [Pulock]. I’m not going to be forgetting that one.”
Pulock said he hadn’t had any formal goaltending training, having only manned the crease during street hockey games as a youngster. But he knew goaltenders try to take away as much space as they can on shot attempts.
“The net was open,” he said. “I just tried to make myself big and take it away. I got a glove on it. It rattled there. I just tried to push it to the side, and not let it get through me.”
Pulock said it was an incredible feeling when the buzzer sounded and his teammates mobbed him. “You hear the sound of the clock go, and all the boys jump on you,” he said. “It feels good to score goals, but when you can save the game like that, it’s a good feeling.”
Pulock, 26, is in his sixth NHL season, all with the Islanders. His status as one of the NHL’s top defensemen has been growing since Trotz took over the team in 2018, and the coach said plays like this — on a stage like this — will solidify it.
“The biggest stage is always the playoffs,” Trotz said. “If you play well in the playoffs, you’re going to get noticed. These are the hardest games. He’s starting to get the recognition he deserves.”