The stakes weren’t that high for Ryan Poehling, and he knew that better than anyone.
While his team had no chance at making this year’s playoffs, the stage was already set for a rivalry matchup against the Leafs on home ice. More importantly to viewers watching at home, the game was on Hockey Night in Canada; the final broadcast of Bob Cole’s legendary 50-year career.
Poehling could have easily coasted under the radar, won a few faceoffs, made a few hits, and Montreal Canadiens fans would have been satisfied.
Instead, the 20-year-old had a debut to remember, scoring a hat trick and adding the shootout winner in a 6-5 victory to cap off the Canadiens’ season. Poehling is the first Canadien to score a hat trick in his debut in 76 years, since Alex Smart recorded three goals and an assist in his first game against Chicago in 1943.
The first goal of Poehling’s career would not have counted had a challenge for goaltender interference from Leafs head coach Mike Babcock been successful. There were groans from fans, and very little to support his claim on video, but at least Babcock felt bad about it:
More Babcock on Poehling: "I felt so bad honest to God when we challenged the goal… I read the scouting report, it never said he was going to get four on Hockey Night in Canada in the Forum. I don’t know how many guys have ever done that. Good for him, good start."— Kelsey Patterson (@PattersonKels) April 7, 2019
Poehling’s goal counted, of course. The age-old adage continues to ring true: good things happen when you go to the net. It put the Canadiens one goal behind the Leafs in the first period, making it a game.
After two more tallies, including a late tying goal, there was the shootout-winner that sent Habs fans home happy. Jordan Weal was the Canadiens’ third shooter tasked with winning the game, and while the Bell Centre might have been happy with him netting the winner, it wouldn’t have felt the same. Thankfully, Poehling was called and chills went up spines.
Would you rather a meaningless game end any other way? What probably could have ended as a dud resulted in a great high-scoring hockey game. The overtime period prior to the shootout was gripping, and made even better when Bob Cole called it all by himself. Poehling’s winner was the icing on the cake for the game, and his debut.
Seven other players have scored at least three goals in their first National Hockey League game, including Toronto’s Auston Matthews, who scored four goals in his first game. Former Dallas Star Fabian Brunnstrom scored a hat trick, including a game-winning goal, in his debut, doing it on five shots.
Not only did Poehling score three in regulation, the centre was a perfect three-for-three; a 100% conversion rate. Four-for-four, if you want to count the shootout goal. All that in less than 11 minutes of play, to go with a 57% faceoff winning percentage and a minute on the penalty kill. Poehling was credited with one official high-danger chance, but the forward still scored his goals in prime positions.
There will be takes flying about Ryan Poehling. Perhaps some have already penciled him as the number-two or -three centre for the 2019-20 season for the Canadiens. But he can make his case for having the greatest debut in team history.