ECHL: Devils Prospect Poulter Making Difference For Adirondack Vs. Florida

ECHL: Devils Prospect Poulter Making Difference For Adirondack Vs. Florida

Adirondack goalie Isaac Poulter helped the Thunder split Games 1 and 2 with the two-time defending champion Everblades, but can he take them to the final?

May 21, 2024 by Justin Cohn

It’s hard not to root for the Adirondack Thunder at least a little bit.

No, I’m not changing my prediction for the Eastern Conference Finals – which was for the Florida Everblades to win in five games – because so far it’s generally played out as I thought. The Everblades did what they needed to do by stealing one of the first two games at Glens Falls, New York, and now return to Estero, Florida, for three straight games in a best-of-7 series that is tied at 1.

Game 3 will be played Wednesday night at Hertz Arena, where the teams met for a three-game series in early February that was dominated by the Everblades. While both rosters have improved since then, Florida’s has taken a larger leap in talent.

But talent doesn’t mean everything. And Adirondack keeps proving that over and over again. So if I’m wrong about the Thunder’s chances of ultimately winning, I apologize, but it would be a fun ride to watch.

Of the four remaining teams – the Kansas City Mavericks and Toledo Walleye are in the Western Conference Finals (more on that later) – the Thunder are the least talented by a substantial margin. I don’t mean to offend or to overlook that the Thunder are division champions and a higher seed than the Everblades, but I don’t think it’s really up for debate.

The Thunder, however, make up for any deficiencies with grit and resolve.

We’ve seen that, really, for more than a year – since the Pete MacArthur-coached team squeaked into the 2023 playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season. Even though the Thunder lost in the first round, the team had renewed confidence this season and won the North Division.

In the postseason, the Thunder have endured a seven-game series with the scrappy Maine Mariners and a six-game series with the Norfolk Admirals, who squandered a 2-0 series lead after stealing the first two games in Glens Falls. The Thunder have battled through injuries, done some unconventional things (such as moving Ryan Wheeler from defense to forward) and – here’s the key – gotten unbelievable goaltending.

One of the cool things about ECHL playoffs at this stage is so many people get exposed to teams and players they aren’t very familiar with. At the Double-A level of hockey, most people stay in the bubbles of watching only the teams in their own divisions. That includes the players and coaches themselves.

I’ve gotten multiple text messages over the last couple of weeks from people asking me, “Who the heck is Isaac Poulter?” That’s not a knock on Poulter or those people; it’s just the reality of hockey at this level, where it’s hard to know everyone unless you really are making an effort to do so.

Poulter, contracted to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, epitomizes a lot of things right now: The value of great goaltending in the playoffs; how someone can just get hot and change a team’s narrative; and how a good affiliation with NHL and AHL teams can alter the landscape.

The reason many outside the North Division are unfamiliar with Poulter, 22, is because he spent much of the season in the AHL with the Utica Comets. He was good during the regular season when in the ECHL – 5-0-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage – but nothing like what we’ve seen in the playoffs. The second-year player out of the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos has a whopping four playoff shutouts, three against Maine and a 41-save gem in Game 2 against Florida, which was a 2-0 victory Saturday. His playoff GAA is 1.63. His SP is even better: .946. Against the Everblades, winner of the last two Kelly Cups, he’s stopped 97.2% of the shots he’s faced. That’s insane.

Florida’s offense hasn’t looked in sync in the series, though Mark Senden had both goals in the 2-1 victory in Game 1, but Poulter has been almost impenetrable and so far outplayed the Everblades’ Cam Johnson, winner of the last two Playoff MVPs. A rare miscue in Game 2, a Shane Harper shot from behind the net that rolled off Johnson’s back and in, gave Adirondack an early lead in the series-tying victory. Johnson has stopped 94.2% of the shots he’s faced in the series, still pretty darned good.

Florida has certainly generated the bulk of the better opportunities, despite any issues on offense. Both teams have shown their depth – Florida won Game 1 without forward Josh Ho-Sang and Adirondack took Game 2 without Yushiroh Hirano – but neither squad has looked totally fluid on the ice. Florida needs to get Bobo Carpenter, Matthew Wedman and Oliver Chau going; Adirondack needs to get Filip Engarås, Tristan Ashbrook and Travis Broughman heated up.

Just look at the power plays in the series: Adirondack is 0 for 12 and Florida 0 for 7.

There’s a lot of series left, though, and we’re all squared at 1. I just hope the goaltending keeps up because it’s been exciting to watch.

ECHL Eastern Conference Finals Schedule And Results

Adirondack Thunder (43-18-11) Vs. Florida Everblades (40-23-9)

Game 1 - Florida 2, Adirondack 1
Game 2 - Adirondack 2, Florida 0
Game 3 - Wednesday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 4 - Friday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 5 - Saturday, May 25 at 7 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 6 - Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack (If Necessary)
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 29 at 7 p.m. ET at Adirondack (If Necessary)

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