IceCaps come out flat and stay that way in rubber-match loss to Penguins
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Geoff Walker (17) sets up in front of St. John’s IceCaps goaltender Eddie Pasquale and behind defenceman Brett Festerling (3) as a shot makes its way past the IceCaps Arturs Kulda (44) towards the net during Game 2 of the teams’ AHL Calder Cup playoffs second-round series at Mile One Centre on Wednesday night. The Penguins won 3-1 to knot the best-of-seven series 1-1. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
To begin our story, one which we’ll dub ‘A Tale of Two Games’, we must first set the scene.
A snowy Wednesday evening. Inside Mile One Centre, drums are a beatin’. The crowd, most of which has bought into the whiteout thing, is jacked. A chorus of ‘Eddie’s better!’ rains down on the young Pasquale lad from Toronto, a shot at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender Brad Thiessen.
The IceCaps lead Round 2 of the Calder Cup playoffs by a game, and a big parade down Water St. is just around the corner.
And then the puck drops.
The St. John’s IceCaps skate like their Bauers need sharpening. Pucks roll off sticks. Passes are incomplete. Players fumble their way offside.
A frustrating, if not disappointing, 3-1 loss, especially following a 3-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins not 24 hours earlier, a game that should have been 5-1 or even 6-1 had it not been for the work of Thiessen.
So what gives?
“I feel,” said IceCaps’ standup veteran Garth Murray, “that it’s been an ongoing trend throughout the playoffs that we win a game and then we’re not mentally ready to do what it takes to win the next game.
“And we’ve gotten lucky a few times with some good goaltending and with some timely goals. But it’s an issue we have to address or else it’s not going to go our way here.”
In the first round of the playoffs, the IceCaps won the series-opener against the Crunch in Syracuse by a 3-2 count. The next night, Syracuse came back 4-3. When the series shifted to St. John’s, the IceCaps registered a 5-1 decision, but needed overtime in Game 4 for a 4-3 win.
Tuesday night, the IceCaps appeared so utterly dominant at times. Wednesday, well, the winning goal, by Joey Mormina, came on a two-on-one play … while the Penguins were shorthanded.
St. John’s only goal, by Ben Maxwell, came via the power play. On the other six occasions when the IceCaps had the man advantage, they whiffed.
“It’s playoffs,” Murray said. “I don’t know what some guys are happy about. We win the first game of a series, but there are six more games to play. You can’t sit and pat yourself on the back.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” he said of the Penguins. “They had a tough travel day (getting to St. John’s), just came off a five-game series and they came in and we got the best of them. So yeah, they’re going to come back ready.
“So it’s a lot of guys fault in here not being ready to play.”
Hockey is an emotional game, and so it sometimes takes little to spark those emotions — a goal, a big save. A fight, in some instances. Or a big hit.
Murray delivered the big bodycheck last night, a crunching first-period blow to the Penguins’ Brian Gibbons with St. John’s trailing 1-0.
And while it appeared to energize Murray’s teammates and the crowd, the charge fizzled out.
“That was a momentary fix,” Murray said. “It gave us a chance, just as Squals (Pasquale) did with a lot of saves (35 in total).
“You know, we had a lot of opportunities to turn that game around tonight and it never happened. That’s coming from key guys and older guys and guys who should know better.
“This is playoff hockey and we have to decide right now to have a better attitude going into games.
“It’s just inexcusable this time of year.”
Those mapping the Calder Cup parade route downtown should remember these Penguins finished only a point behind the IceCaps in the standings, scored five fewer goals than St. John’s, and allowed one less goal.
Of course, the best-of-seven series is merely tied 1-1 as it heads back to Pennsylvania this weekend.
There’s still lots of hockey to be played. But if the IceCaps are to advance further down the post season path, efforts like the one we saw Wednesday will have to be few and far between.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Penguins 3, IceCaps 1
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — AHL playoffs
1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Tangradi 2 (Grant) 9:48
2. St. John’s, Maxwell 2 (Meech, Trotter) 15:42 (pp)
Penalties — Postma SJs (cross-checking) 1:31, Festerling SJs (cross-checking) 7:31, Lerg WBS (slashing) 11:30, Grant WBS (unsportsmanlike conduct) 14:58.
Penalties — King SJs (charging) 3:07, King SJs (hooking) 5:20, Samuelsson WBS (cross-checking), 16:16.
3. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Mormina 1 (O’Reilly, Sill) 2:38 (sh)
4. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Williams 2 (O’Reilly, McDonald) 4:58 (pp)
Penalties — Tangradi WBS (hooking) 1:40, Cormier SJs (holding) 3:18, Despres WBS (hooking) 7:40, Kulda SJs (hooking) 10:02, Picard WBS (hooking) 10:16, McDonald WBS (delay of game) 17:24, Bortuzzo WBS, King SJs (slashing, fighting) 19:42.
Shots on goal by
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 11 17 10 — 38
St. John’s 6 5 12 — 23
Goal — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: Thiessen (W,4-3); St. John’s: Pasquale (L,4-2).
Power plays (goals-chances) — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: 1-6, St. John’s: 1-7.
Referees — Terry Koharski, Mark Lemelin.
Linesmen — Joe Maynard, Justin Day.
Attendance — 6,287 at St. John’s, N.L.