The league-leading Canucks may have three players headed to this month’s All-Star game, but rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin also played worthy of the nod last night.
Although a whopping 29 points separate the two teams in the league standings, it was only a sliver of space that was the difference in the Islanders 4-3 shootout loss to Vancouver at Nassau Coliseum.
Much of that was thanks to 20-year-old Poulin, who was superb in his 2nd NHL start to hold the Islanders in the game, making 48 of 51 saves.
Twice the Islanders erased a Vancouver lead and Blake Comeau gave the Islanders the go-ahead goal in the third with his slapshot from the blue line, but Kevin Bieksa netted the equalizer 34 seconds later and Ryan Kesler notched the game-winner in a 2-1 shootout.
Kesler beat Poulin over his left pad for the clincher, but Poulin’s teammates were more than impressed with his poise under pressure.
“He’s played unbelievable for us,” said Comeau, who finished with a goal and an assist. “And from what I’ve heard about his time in Bridgeport, he’s been outstanding there, too.”
“Can’t say enough about him,” said defenseman Jack Hillen, who tied the game at 1 with his bomb from the left point in the second period. “He played great in Colorado, he played great tonight and he’s making a name for himself.”
Poulin was called up from Bridgeport during the Islanders’ recent five-stop, 11-day tour of the Western Conference to replace Rick DiPietro after he went down with a groin strain in the team’s 5-2 win over Calgary last Monday. Joining fellow Sound Tigers netminder Nathan Lawson in the goaltending ranks, Poulin recorded his first win against Colorado Saturday and furthered his case to stay last night.
Tested against some of the league’s top offensive players—All Star forwards Kesler and Henrik and Daniel Sedin have 151 points among the three of them—Poulin feels he can hang.
“I feel great out there. I faced  shots today and we played the best team in the league and I think I looked okay,” Poulin said.
Poulin also felt confident enough say he was not happy with Mason Raymond’s flashy shootout move. Raymond darted toward the net, came to an abrupt stop, spun and backhanded the puck past Poulin.
“It was a showoff move,” Poulin said.
Was he angry?
“Oh yeah,” Poulin said. “Not at him, at the move.”
The Islanders as a group showed that collective fire as well after giving up 20 shots in the first period to Vancouver. They gained momentum as the game progressed and, fueled by third-period goals from John Tavares and Comeau, competed against the league’s best to earn a point in overtime.
They may not have a player in the All-Star game, they may have no shoe-in candidate or bona fide superstar, but last night they battled.
“Couldn’t be more proud of the guys and the effort they gave tonight against a great hockey team,” coach Jack Capuano said.