St. John's defeats Syracuse Crunch 4-3 on Derek Meech's overtime winner, take series 3-1
It was a terrible start for the St. John's IceCaps, but a memorable finish.
Derek Meech scored at 5:01 of overtime to give the St. John's IceCaps a 4-3 win over the Syracuse Crunch Saturday night at Mile One Centre, advancing the IceCaps to the second round of the American Hockey League's Calder Cup playoffs.
St. John's took the best-of-five series 3-1.
Meech's goal, his third of the playoffs, came after he took an across-the-ice feed from Brock Trotter, then fired a low slapshot from along the boards, beating Syracuse goalie Iiro Tarkki to the stick side.
Carl Klingberg, John Albert and Ray Sawada also scored for St. John's.
Emerson Etem, with two, and Mark Bell had the goals for the Crunch, who took advantage of a sloppy first period by the home side.
Bell and Etem scored 36 seconds apart in the first period. Bell's came on an innocent-looking 35-foot wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that seemed to surprise Eddie Pasquale. On the very next shift, and on the Crunch's very next shot, Etem finished off a tic-tac-toe play for the first playoff goal of his pro career.
Still, the Crunch had to get a couple of great saves from Tarkki to keep the IceCaps off the scoreboard, maybe even from tying the game. One was on Aaron Gagnon, looking to deposit a rebound, but the best stop by the big Finnish goalie had come four minutes into a still scoreless game, with St. John's on a power play. IceCaps' winger Jason King poked the puck to a wide-open Ben Maxwell, who looked to have the Crunch goalie dead to rights. But Tarkki moved to his left and made a great glove-hand save on Maxwell's hard wrister.
It was one of the few high points for St. John's in the period. Ill-advised passes, soft clearing attempts and bad choices had the home team on its heels and turned down the volume switch of the 40th consecutive sellout crowd at Mile One.
That changed somewhat after the first intermission as the first 15 minutes of the second period was all IceCaps. In fact, that's how long it took for the Crunch to register a single shot on goal in the frame. Meanwhile, St. John's got markers from Klingberg - his first tally since March 6 or an 18-game stretch - and fellow rookie Albert two minutes apart early in the second which tied the game. St. John's kept up the pressure, but couldn't beat Tarkki. Eventually, the Crunch managed to put something together offensively and Etem delivered his second of the night at 15:35 as he redirected a Mat Clark feed past Pasquale.
Sawada tied it again 6:55 into the third with the IceCaps on a power-play. The big right-winger, parked in front of Tarkki, swept a rebound of Aaron Gagnon's low shot past the Syracuse goaltender.
Both teams had chances for a regulation game-winner on wild scrambles in the closing 30 seconds of the third, but the full house of 6,287 had to wait through a full-time break and then 301 seconds of action before Meech's marker ended the game and Syracuse's season.
Meanwhile, the IceCaps' Calder Cup campaign will continue against a second-round opponent that was still to be determined at The Telegram's Friday press deadline.
What is known is that St. John's will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series, with the first two games to be played at Mile One Tuesday and Wednesday. The scene will then switch to the home ice of St. John's opposition, whoever that turns out to be, for three games, beginning sometime during the first weekend in May. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are tentatively scheduled for Mile One on May 11 and 12.
Tickets for the second-round games at Mile One go on sale at the stadium's box office beginning noon today.