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With ‘The Save,’ Islanders Defenseman Ryan Pulock Authors An All-Time Iconic New York Sports Moment

There have been plenty of charmed, maybe-this-really-is-their-year moments for the Islanders in the NHL playoffs.

Barely nine months after reaching the NHL semifinals for the first time in 27 years in the fan-less bubble, the Islanders are taking advantage of getting a second chance at one more deep run before closing raucous Nassau Coliseum, which of course they thought they’d closed six years ago.

The Coliseum, dubbed “Fort Neverlose” during the dynasty years, hosted two playoff clinchers in 14 days when the Islanders finished off the Penguins and Bruins with Game 6 wins, which was one more clincher than the ol’ barn hosted the previous 35 years combined.

Carping Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy unwittingly provided the Islanders the rallying cry of the playoffs — and gave the Coliseum’s past and present pro lacrosse tenants an invaluable burst of publicity — by dubbing them the “New York Saints” as he complained over the distribution of penalties in the second-round series.

From the Jets and Giants to Ralph Macchio and beer can smashing Clark Gillies, the Islanders have become the viral sensation with whom everyone wants to be associated. (The less said about Jimmy Fallon trying to glom on to the Islanders, the better)

On Saturday night, Matt Martin — who has played in every Islanders playoff game since 2013, anchors the “identity line” and has made Long Island his year-round home with his wife Sydney Esiason, the daughter of Long Island legend Boomer — missed his brother-in-law Gunnar’s wedding but scored the goal that capped the Islanders’ three-goal second period. Afterward, he noted his Mom’s birthday was two days earlier and Father’s Day — Martin’s first as a Dad — is today.

And then, at the most opportune time possible, the Islanders added a moment even more iconic than it was charmed.

No matter how the Islanders fare the rest of this summer, “The Save” — Ryan Pulock’s game-preserving sprawl across the wide-open net to block Ryan McDonagh’s last-second shot in a 3-2 win for the Islanders that evened the semifinals against the Lightning at two games apiece — goes right up there with The Flip, The Catch (baseball) and The Catch (football) as the most iconic sports moments in New York this century.

“It’s the playoffs and nothing should surprise anybody,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s the great thing about our game — we can bring you out of your seats right to the last minute.”

“The Save” will forever be a two-word moment that requires no further explanation, even as it warrants repeated and wondrous explanations of how a seemingly impossible feat became reality.

In case you missed it — and especially if you didn’t — the Lightning, which scored twice earlier in the third, appeared as if it would tie the game just before the third period horn when McDonagh pulled off a 360-degree spin to dodge a diving Brock Nelson before backhanding a shot past goalie Semyon Varlamov, who bolted out of the crease.

“I was actually watching on the Jumbotron,” Martin said. “Saw (McDonagh) kind of do the spin-o-rama and saw the net was wide open and your heart sinks there for a second.”

Except Pulock, whose turnover deep in the Islanders’ zone created the last-ditch opportunity for the Lightning, placed his stick on the ice, went to all fours, slid across the crease and deflected the puck with his gloves.

“That’s a special play,” Josh Bailey said. “The patience to stick with it. It was just a great play by him. I mean, game-saving play, obviously. Huge.”

The puck skittered out of the crease as the final couple seconds ticked off the clock. The horn went off, a deafening roar filled the Coliseum and a surreal sight developed to the left of the Islanders net, where the winning team mobbed a non-goalie and Varlamov was one of the last players on the ice to join the celebration.

“McDonagh got a puck, walking down and ‘Varly’ came out, challenged and he made a heckuva play with the spin-o-rama and the net was open,” Pulock said. “I just tried to make myself big and take it away and I was able to kick it (away). You hear the sound of the clock go and the all the boys jump on you, it’s a good feeling.”

As Martin noted, the win Saturday merely only got the Islanders halfway to a series win and still left them far short of the ultimate prize. But the Islanders don’t need to win the Stanley Cup in order for Pulock’s play to have a defining and lasting impact.

Pulock’s persistence in the last-second sequence symbolized the systematic approach of Trotz and Lou Lamoriello, who have needed just three years to reverse the Islanders’ fortunes and considerably brighten the franchise’s future by implementing a methodical thoroughness in which everyone knows his spot and place.

The first three iconic New York sports moments of the century only yielded one champion. David Tyree’s last catch in the NFL kept alive the Giants’ improbable last-second drive against the Patriots in Super Bowl 42 and led to the game-winning touchdown in their 17-14 victory.

But even though the Mets lost Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series, Endy Chavez robbing Scott Rolen of a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning is still a staple of the Mets’ pregame hype video. When Derek Jeter goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame in September, rest assured one of the centerpiece clips will be his flip to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 AL Division Series, even though the Yankees’ bid for a fourth straight World Series ended with a walk-off Game 7 loss to the Diamondbacks.

That’s the group Pulock joined with one split-second slide across the crease Saturday night. “The Save” will be played at UBS Arena until that place becomes as ancient and maligned as the Coliseum. If a retired Pulock comes to a playoff game at UBS Arena or any subsequent building, he’ll be greeted with the type of ovation afforded Gillies and his dynasty-era teammates. If he so desires, Pulock can supplement his income by signing glossy 8x10s of “The Save” for decades to come.

“I thought it was going in,” Mathew Barzal said. “Just a miraculous play by ‘Puli.’ Not gonna be forgetting that one.”

No one who saw it ever will.

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