The Winnipeg Jets defensemen were asked to do the near impossible Wednesday night.
They were tasked with, somehow, slowing down soon-to-be NHL MVP Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers duo and the league's top two scorers during the regular season by a wide margin.
Tucker Poolman did one better than that.
The East Grand Forks Senior High and UND defenseman scored his first-career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and helped the Winnipeg Jets shut down McDavid and Draisaitl in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
Winnipeg won 4-1 to take the best-of-seven series lead.
Poolman's goal came at 11:02 of the second period and evened the game at 1-1.
On the goal, Poolman gained the offensive blue line, made a drop pass to teammate Blake Wheeler, then drove a lane to the net. Wheeler snapped a shot that was stopped by Oilers goalie Mike Smith, but Poolman beat Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson to the rebound and slipped it five-hole.
It marked Poolman's first goal of the season. During the regular season, Poolman had no goals and one assist in 39 games. His last goal was against Arizona on March 9, 2020.
It was Poolman's first Stanley Cup Playoff goal. His last playoff goal came when he was a sophomore at UND. Poolman scored in the 2016 NCAA regional semifinal against Northeastern in Cincinnati. The Fighting Hawks went on to win the NCAA national championship that season.
"That's playoffs, man," Wheeler said. "If you're going to have success in the playoffs, you're going to have to have guys step up."
Poolman, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's 2017 defensive defenseman of the year, wasn't the only unlikely goal-scorer for Winnipeg. Former Minnesota Duluth forward Dominic Toninato, the NCHC's 2017 defensive forward of the year, also scored his first NHL goal of the season to make it 2-1 Winnipeg.
"That's really, really consistent with playoff hockey," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "We've seen that so many times. The skill, in some ways, cancels itself out, and it's the grit and grind guys who go to the net, put a puck to the net, stand in front of the net. . . that's their game all year long. Playoff hockey gets to become like their game and they're good at it."
Poolman, Purpur, LaDue
With his goal, Poolman joined rare company.
He became the first person from East Grand Forks to score an NHL playoff goal. He's just the third from Greater Grand Forks to do it, joining Fido Purpur and Paul LaDue.
Purpur scored one Stanley Cup Playoff goal in 1944 as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. His goal came against the Detroit Red Wings in the semifinals.
LaDue scored a Stanley Cup Playoff goal in 2018 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. His goal came against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Jets slow down Oilers
McDavid led the NHL with an astounding 105 points in 56 regular-season games. Draisaitl finished second in the league with 84 points. Nobody else in the NHL reached 70.
But McDavid and Draisaitl were held without a point in Game 1 against the Jets. It ended an eight-game point streak for McDavid, who had 21 points during that run. McDavid didn't have a shot on goal during the first two periods.
"You have to expect a team with the two leading scorers in the league, there are going to be sections of this game where they control you offensively," Maurice said. "They were in on us, they had zone time and they got some scrum pucks to the net. But we were still able to mitigate some of the odd-man (rushes) or even the heavy two-on-ones coming out of the corner from your own end. Our layering wasn't too bad."
Poolman played 18:17 and registered a plus-2 rating. Former UND defenseman Derek Forbort played 21:09 for the Jets and was plus-2.
Game 2 is set for 8 p.m. Friday in Edmonton.
"It's one game," Maurice said. "I thought both teams were actually slightly tentative in some of their play with the puck early, which is understandable. It was a little more physical at times, so there weren't a lot of plays made. Neither team generated much off the rush tonight, which is just prototypical of playoff hockey. I thought they did a better job of getting to our crease and scrumming pucks. (Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck) was really goood in heavy traffic within two feet of the blue paint. That's an area we have to improve on.
"I think we've all watched an awful lot of playoff hockey. You know the game eventually gets to look like that. And that's kind of what it looked like tonight."