The New York Islanders bounced back in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, earning a 3-2 victory and avoiding the brink of elimination to even the series 2-2.
Two nights after the Bolts silenced Nassau Coliseum with a 2-1 victory, the Isles were able to pick up at least one win at home in the series. It was a mirror image of what happened during Games 1 and 2 in Tampa where New York won the series opener before the Lightning came back to earn a 4-2 victory in Game 2.
Ryan Pulock and the Islanders' fourth line stepped up for New York with the defenseman making a game-saving play, blocking a shot on the goal line that would've sent the game to overtime. Instead, New York avoids a dreaded 3-1 series deficit and ensures the Coliseum will host at least one more playoff game before the team packs up for the brand new UBS Arena in Elmont next season.
Matt Martin, LW, New York Islanders: game-winning goal, 1 SOG, 3 HT
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, New York Islanders: 2 A, 6 SOG, 3 HT
Semyon Varlamov, G, New York Islanders: 28 SV, 2 GA
Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning: 1 G (seven-game goal-scoring streak), 2 SOG
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: 27 SV, 3 GA
Pulock Buzzer-Beating Save
The Islanders have as much playoff history in their building as any team in the NHL. It's never seen anything like Pulock's save Saturday.
On a play that appeared destined to end with one of the most spectacular goals of the postseason, it was the defenseman who skated 22:50 on the night who ended up the hero. All of it deserves multiple looks.
Shortly after Victor Hedman was assessed a questionable tripping penalty with barely two minutes left in regulation, the Bolts were able to grab possession of the puck, pull Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker and set up in the Isles' zone. That's when the puck found the stick of Tampa defenseman Ryan McDonagh inching in from the blue line on the weak side of the ice.
McDonagh had to show an incredible amount of patience in the shortest amount of time. The clock showed 4.8 seconds remaining once Tampa's veteran gained control, and he somehow had the presence of mind not to take the clear look on net with Semyon Varlamov deep in his net but go for a spin-o-rama that sent New York's Brock Nelson tumbling by him on the ice while faking the goalie all the way out of the crease. At that point, the net was as wide open as it had been all night.
"I just tried to get something on net," McDonagh told reporters after.
That is when Pulock came sliding across the goal line just as McDonagh released what he—and his teammates—believed to be the game-tying goal. Instead, it bounced off the sprawled-out defenseman and safely to the corner as the horn sounded and the building erupted.
"I think everyone thought it was going to go in," Tampa's Tyler Johnson said.
Typically players on the ice will immediately skate to their goalie to celebrate after a win. On Saturday, the Islanders rushed over to Pulock instead, mobbing their teammate as the Bolts stood there stunned.
Maybe no one was more stunned than Pulock, who may have a career in net waiting for him when he's done playing defense.
"I played a little goalie in maybe street hockey," Pulock joked after. "But that's about it. I just tried to make myself big."
He certainly did.
Controversial Call Proves Crucial
There was nothing particularly noteworthy about Matt Martin's goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead late in the second period.
Martin took advantage of traffic in front of the net, grabbed one of the rebounds given up by Vasilevskiy in quick succession and threw the Isles' third attempt on the scoring chance right behind him.
There was no question about whether Martin put the puck in cleanly, but the Bolts were furious nonetheless, believing the play leading up to the goal had been offside. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper immediately challenged the ruling, giving fans and players alike a chance to see just how close a call it was.
It was the first time all postseason Cooper challenged a call on the ice, and it couldn't have come at a bigger moment.
Ultimately, the coach would end up wasting the opportunity and lose his timeout. While Josh Bailey did clearly stick-handle at the blue line, it didn't send his teammates offside—but only by the slimmest of margins.
Replay showed Bailey crossing the blue line and dragging the puck back toward him, but he did not go over the other side of the line, which would've negated the goal.
Cooper still didn't agree and was seen shouting at the officials as he walked off the ice following the second period.
That call would come back to haunt Tampa Bay—and nearly New York, as well.
The Bolts put together a furious rally in the third period, scoring twice in three minutes midway through the frame. Brayden Point notched his 12th goal of the postseason and scored for the seventh consecutive game, with Johnson adding his second of the playoffs shortly after.
That should've tied the game up at 2-2 in Cooper's mind. It would've negated the need to pull a goalie in the waning minutes and would've avoided Pulock's game-saving block. Instead, the teams will head back to Tampa tied 2-2 in the series as the best-of-seven becomes a best-of-three.
Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals shifts back to Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay on Monday. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sportsnet.