MONTREAL - Ryan Poehling's NHL debut was nothing short of epic.
The 20-year-old centerman registered his first career hat trick and topped things off by scoring the shootout winner in a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
After the final buzzer, the Lakeville, MN native was almost speechless - and rightfully so. His performance in the Canadiens' season finale was straight out of a Hollywood movie.
From his first goal to his last, the Bell Centre faithful was with him every step of the way.
"I just tried to go out there and play my game and do the right things. Sometimes, you just get rewarded for them and games go like that. It's a surreal moment for myself. It feels like a dream," said Poehling, who inked a three-year, entry-level contract with the Canadiens last weekend after his St. Cloud State Huskies were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. "I don't even know what to say. I'm just in shock right now."
Video: TOR@MTL: Poehling nets hatty, SO winner in NHL debut
Poehling scored once in the first, once in the second and then netted the game-tying goal with 2:31 remaining in regulation to send the contest to the extra frame.
When it came time for the shootout, Poehling was the fourth shooter up and he beat goaltender Frederik Andersen to send the crowd into an absolute frenzy.
Then, fellow Lakeville native Charlie Lindgren shut the door on Kasperi Kapanen to seal the win.
Shortly thereafter, Poehling was named the game's first star and the ensuing ovation was off-the-charts loud.
"That was probably one of the more special moments of my life so far. You kind of get the feeling of the Bell Centre right away. That was a great welcoming for myself, I feel like," described Poehling, who joined Alex Smart (1943) as the only Canadiens rookies to collect a hat trick in their very first NHL outing. "It felt surreal to me. I don't think that will ever happen again. You can't paint a better picture."
Video: Ryan Poehling on his first career NHL game
You certainly can't, and what made the occasion even more special was having his entire family in the crowd to soak up the accomplishment right along with him.
His mother, Kris, father, Tim, and brothers Nick, Jack and Luke were all in the building to witness a breakout effort for the ages.
Remember that had Poehling's top-ranked Huskies advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four, he wouldn't have been able to join the Habs in time to close out the season and this moment might not have transpired.
That wasn't lost on the Canadiens' No. 25, of course.
"I think everything in life happens for a reason," said Poehling. "If we ended up winning that game [the NCAA Regional game against American International College], I probably wouldn't be here today. Kind of putting all of that into perspective is pretty special what God can do in your life, so you've just got to give it to him."
Showing the youngster some love
It's safe to say that Poehling's teammates couldn't have been happier for him on Saturday night.
Take it from Andrew Shaw.
"It's going to be something that he's going to remember - not just him - but everyone in this room, this organization, a lot of people around the League are going to remember that one for a long time," said Shaw, who scored his 19th goal of the year. "Everyone was full of smiles and joy. To come into that in your first game, in a game like this, it's unbelievable. Saturday night. Habs against the Leafs. Hat trick. Icing on the cake with a shootout winner. It's going to be one for the history books."
Like Shaw, head coach Claude Julien believes Poehling's play inspired everyone around him.
"I know the guys were extremely happy for him on the bench when he scored his first goal, and then his second and his third. It brought joy to the locker room in a tough situation," said Julien. "It's nice to see that we have good young kids coming. Tonight, Ryan played with a lot of emotion for his first game and I think he'll remember it for a long time."