Seven weeks ago, Ryan Pulock was playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
A day after Pulock made his NHL debut, the Islanders acquired Shane Prince from the Ottawa Senators.
Alan Quine, Pulock’s teammate in Bridgeport for most of the season, played a total of two NHL games, both in the final weekend of the regular season, before being included on the roster as the playoffs began.
Between them, the trio had a total of two games of NHL experience before the 2015-16 season began, both of those belonging to Prince. They were not part of the preseason buzz that surrounded the Islanders following last season’s playoff trip, but they’ve had an outsized impact on this first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series with the Islanders up 2-1 heading into Game 4 at Barclays Center on Wednesday.
It was Pulock’s second-period goal that got the Islanders on the board in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime win, just moments after Aaron Ekblad’s goal – that would have given Florida a 3-0 lead – was overturned due to an offside.
Two Florida penalties in less than 30 seconds followed and Pulock converted the 5-on-3 opportunity with a rocket one-timer from inside the blue line on the left side off a Kyle Okposo feed.
After the Panthers went up 3-1, Pulock helped bring the Islanders back within a goal. The defenseman corralled a Calvin de Haan shot that ricocheted hard off the glass and fed a diving Shane Prince for the goal 11:48 into the second.
Five minutes later Frans Nielsen tied the game at 3, and that’s where it stayed heading into overtime.
“He’s a young player. The points are great,” said coach Jack Capuano of Pulock. “He’s still working on his game, his gap control, his play away from the puck. To me, he’s a lot more assertive now than when he first came.”
Selected 15th overall in the 2013 draft, Pulock’s arrival had been heavily anticipated, particularly with the growing reputation of the big shot he unleashed for his first playoff goal on Sunday night.
But as injuries punched holes in the Islanders’ blueline ranks throughout the season, Pulock remained in Bridgeport. He finally got the call at the end of February, making his NHL debut in Edmonton against the Oilers.
Less than two months later, he had a major role in a crucial playoff win.
“You dream of it, to get that chance and that opportunity,” said Pulock. “This year I spent a lot of time down and was able to come up the last month-and-a-half. I learned a lot over that month-and-a-half playing in some big situations, which has really helped down the stretch.”
Pulock wasn’t the only new, fresh face making an impact in the Islanders’ two wins in the series. Quine and Prince are just 23 years old. Prince’s goal helped swing the momentum back in the Islanders’ favor after the Panthers had responded to Pulock’s score.
Prince was skating on a newly formed line with Quine and Ryan Strome, himself just 22 years old and in his second full NHL season.
In the Islanders’ 5-4 win in the series opener in Florida on Thursday, Strome had an assist and a goal. The goal put the Isles up 5-3 at 6:01 of the third period and was created by a furious rush up the ice by Quine with a nifty move to get a shot on goal.
Strome cashed in the rebound to give the Islanders a goal they would need to hold on.
“That line played well,” said Capuano of the Quine-Prince-Strome pairing after Sunday’s game. “They did some good things. They create because they have some speed and deception to their game.”
It’s a young line that came together somewhat by default with the move of Frans Nielsen from second-line center to first-line wing with center John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
Putting the Islanders’ top three regular-season scorers together has produced the hoped-for results. Tavares has six points in three games. Nielsen’s goal tied Sunday’s game at 3 with Tavares and Okposo picking up assists on the play.
Clearly, that first line will be at the center of the Islanders’ Stanley Cup hopes. But three games into the playoffs, there are signs of support in the scoring column from players who weren’t even in Brooklyn two months ago.
“Obviously Johnny (Tavares) and those guys, they’ve been playing great,” said Pulock. “But some of us younger guys can step up here and really make a difference.
“It doesn’t all come at once, but each game you get a lot more comfortable out there and you’ve just got to feed off that and keep going.”