Ivan Kulbakov turned in one of the most remarkable performances in Quad-City Mallards history Friday night.
The 21-year-old rookie goaltender made 57 saves — the most by a Mallards goaltender since joining the ECHL four years ago — to lead the Mallards to a 3-2 shootout win over the Idaho Steelheads at the TaxSlayer Center.
"I've never seen a performance like that by any individual in person," Mallards head coach Phil Axtell said. "It's frustrating but so exciting for him to have that performance and to get the win with that performance ... crazy, gutsy win."
Kulbakov allowed two goals on the first 15 shots he faced in the game but locked down the rest of the night, turning away the next 44 shots he faced, including 20 in the third period.
He's played mainly in his home country of Belarus before playing last season in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms. Never before has he had a night like Friday.
"It's my first with a lot of saves. Thank you very much to my team, a lot of very good players, a lot of blocked shots," Kulbakov said. "Hard work in practice and a good game. ... It's good practice. ... Tomorrow is a new game."
With about 10 minutes left, the Mallards bench recognized what Kulbakov was doing and was determined not to let his performance go to waste. Tristan King scored the only goal of the shootout after assisting on two goals in the first period.
"Throughout the whole game you could hear guys on the bench, but in the last 10 minutes everybody on the bench wanted to get on there for Ivan," forward Sam Warning said. "He played unbelievable tonight."
Kulbakov's emergence gives the Mallards plenty of confidence in net despite the absence of C.J. Motte, currently up in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. Motte is likely up for the next three weeks, but the Mallards look to have someone who can get the team through the absence of their all-star from last season.
"I think everybody in the locker room trusts him, and he played unbelievable tonight and should enjoy this one," Warning said. "It doesn't matter who we have in net, even (backup Alex Sakellaropoulos), if he went in net I think everyone would feel comfortable. They're two great goaltenders and even better people, too. Going forward, it's an exciting win, and we need to keep getting more."
Idaho took a 1-0 lead with an early power play goal from Henrik Samuelsson just two minutes, 54 seconds into the game.
Josh MacDonald tied the game up with a power play goal at 9:01 in the first period, burying a pass from King. It’s the first power play goal of the season for the Mallards, who entered the game 0 for 15 on the man advantage and went 1 for 4 on the night.
Warning gave the Mallards the lead with his fourth goal of the season at 14:08 but Idaho rallied back with a goal in the final minute as Justin Parizek tipped a shot past Kulbakov for his fourth goal of the season.
Though the Mallards will take the win, they're frustrated by the amount of shots Kulbakov faced and the amount of time they spent in their own zone. The Mallards are now allowing 41.2 shots per game and know they can't expect their goaltenders to turn in another performance like Kulbakov's.
"We need to sort it out and talk it out in the D-zone. Once we do that we'll be fine, but we can't allow 60 shots every night," Warning said. "That's tough for any goaltender."