Trailing by two goals in their first Stanley Cup Playoff game at Barclays Center, the New York Islanders needed a goal in the worst way.
They knew they had to take advantage when Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic was penalized for hooking 4:43 into the second period. The Islanders power play hadn't been clicking in this Eastern Conference First Round series, but rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock wanted to reverse their fortunes with a slap shot that has been routinely clocked at over 100 miles per an hour.
So when Kyle Okposo slid the puck over to the left point, Pulock didn't waste any time showing it off, blasting it past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo to get the Islanders within a goal.
"It felt good," Pulock said following New York's 4-3 overtime win to grab a 2-1 lead in the series. "The crowd, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a goal to kind of get us back in it … that felt good.
Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Pulock scores on two-man advantage
"Obviously I was able to get some shots away on the power play there," Pulock said. "It was so much fun being in that atmosphere, playing those tight games, that's playoff hockey."
There was doubt a few months ago if Pulock would even play in the NHL this season. He was among the final cuts near the end of training camp and played 51 games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League before finally making his Islanders debut Feb. 28 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Of course, there were bumps in the road, same as there are for any player adjusting to the sport's highest level. But Pulock's game improved over the final weeks of the regular season to the point where coach Jack Capuano had him in the lineup for New York's opening game of the playoffs.
After his performance Sunday, it's hard to envision Pulock, the Islanders' first-round pick (No. 15) at the 2013 NHL Draft, ever coming out.
"He's a young player. The points are great," Capuano said. "He's still working on his game, he's still working on his gap control, his play away from the puck. That's what a lot of guys need to work on, and that's what they've worked on. We know he's got a big shot, we know he sees the ice well. But to me, he's a lot more assertive now than when he first came, and that's a good sign. As a young player in this League playing against some pretty good forwards down the stretch and in this series, he's done well."
Pulock wasn't done etching his name on the scoresheet after his goal; he had the presence of the mind to jump into the right circle just over six minutes later and send a gorgeous cross-ice feed that Shane Prince buried to once again get New York within a goal. Frans Nielsen tied it with 3:05 left in the second. Thomas Hickey scored the game-winner at 12:31 of overtime.
Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Prince scores off feed from Pulock
"Those are two guys that weren't on our team a couple of months ago," Hickey said of Pulock and Prince, the latter acquired from the Ottawa Senators prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. "Huge goals. The way Ryan played, nothing seems to bother him. Just getting contributions from those guys, obviously the way [John Tavares] and Kyle and Frans are playing, other guys are going to start chipping in too. Hopefully it's a long run, so we're going to need everyone on board."
Now that he's potentially worked his way into a full-time spot, Pulock can perhaps make a name for himself while the Islanders try to win their first playoff series since 1993.
Game 4 will take place at Barclays Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, FS-F).
"I think at this point right now, this is the best I've felt," Pulock said. "Every game you get more comfortable, more confident … to be able to play here quite a bit lately, it's really helped with that."