TAMPA — Ryan Pulock hasn’t changed his game this postseason, but the Islanders’ top-pair defenseman is suddenly a scoring threat.
As soon as the NHL calendar flipped to the playoffs, Pulock began to find the back of the net and has doubled his goal total from the regular season. Including his rocket-shot from the top of the zone in the third period of the Islanders’ 2-1 win over the Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinal series Sunday, Pulock has four goals in 13 games this postseason.
Three of those tallies have stood as game-winners, which leads the Islanders.
“He’s playing a really solid game, like he has all year,” coach Barry Trotz said after Sunday’s win. “Pucks are just going in [now]. I think early in the year, or during the year, he was actually trying to score and now he’s just putting pucks to the net and they’re going in. I don’t think there’s any change in his game. He’s had a real solid season from game one right to the end of the season.”
Added his defensive partner Adam Pelech, who along with Pulock drew the primary matchup with the Lightning’s top line in Game 1: “He’s obviously extremely important. He’s a great player and that was a big goal for us [Sunday] night. But, you know, it’s not just scoring goals, he’s done a ton of stuff all over the ice to help us win throughout the playoffs. He’s going to be a guy that we’re going to count on forward.”
Pulock has rediscovered his scoring touch after he registered a career-low two goals in 56 regular-season games (not including the combined 16 games he played in his first two NHL seasons). His four goals are the most amongst all Isles defenseman, and he is tied with top six forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal.
The 26-year-old defenseman didn’t score his first goal of the regular season until nearly four months in, on April 11 against the Rangers, when he potted the overtime game-winner 1:13 into the extra period. He admitted his offensive struggles weighed on him.
“I try to not let that bother me during the regular season,” Pulock said. “Just keep playing my game, play the right way, play good defensively and I knew it would come. But come playoff time, it’s nice to contribute in that way and help out offensively. Every goal is huge in the playoffs. So it’s nice to get one or two, I just want to keep that going.”
The Islanders have gotten six goals out of their defense this postseason, and a total of 25 points as the defensemen have found ways to create offensive opportunities for the forwards. It just may be what sets this Islanders team apart from the Lightning during this Stanley Cup semifinal series.
Victor Hedman has led the way offensively this postseason for Tampa Bay defensemen with 11 assists, but the Norris Trophy finalist has yet to score. None of the other five defensemen in the lineup have recorded goals this postseason, either.
“It’s huge, any time you get your defense involved in the attack, it’s huge for your offense,” Trotz said. “I think our lines have all chipped in and if you can get the defense adding a little bit from the back end, obviously that enhances the percentage of you having any kind of success.”