Wilkes-Barre, Pa. — It was as if they had all been asked to write the line 200 times on the blackboard and, as a result, it had become a mantra, something they couldn’t get out of their heads.
“The fourth win is the toughest one to get.”
So said every St. John’s IceCaps player interviewed after the team’s 3-2 overtime triumph Sunday in Game 4 of their American Hockey League playoff series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
It is a cliché repeated during every seven-game playoff series, no matter the sport, no matter the level.
No matter the series stage, whether it’s tied 3-3 or whether a team is up 3-0, 3-2 or 3-1, as the IceCaps are on the Penguins.
It’s a favourite T-shirt, well-worn and overused, but perhaps only because it fits so well.
“It is very true,” said St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge, whose team can push the Penguins over the edge tonight in Wilkes Barre (8:35 p.m., CJYQ 930AM).
“And especially with the team we’re playing. This is a team that is built for the playoffs, that last year won the league (regular-season title) and was eliminated earlier than they thought. So this is a very hungry team, a very dangerous team.
“Any time you have a team in the corner, when you can end their season, you know you are in for a tough game.”
After watching the IceCaps fall behind 2-0 in the first period of Sunday’s game, McCambridge wants a stronger start tonight.
“We need to put some doubt in their minds,” he said of the Penguins.
The IceCaps have the series lead because of overtime victories Saturday and Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Both games were played with pace, but Sunday’s especially so. The third period was like a high-speed game of Pong, back and forth with plenty of big hits. McCambridge expects there will be no-let-up tonight.
“I think there is,” he answered when asked if there was a good chance the needle will move further into the red for Game 5. “They were playing back-to-back games, with the second one in the afternoon and they still showed that great energy level in the third period.
“The energy will be back at a high level. The intensity will be at a high level. I expect the same kind of fast-paced, physical game as we saw Sunday and even more.”
Ben Maxwell’s winning goal for St. John’s on Sunday came just 27 seconds into overtime, but on the IceCaps’ second shift of the extra frame.
Patrice Cormier’s line had started the OT period and came close to delivering the winning tally. But with a faceoff in the Penguins’ end just 19 seconds in, McCambridge opted to go with the line of Maxwell, Jason King and Aaron Gagnon.
“We were into back-to-back games and coming off one that had already gone into overtime, so my mindset was to keep the guys as fresh as possible,” said McCambridge.
“The thinking was we had one good shift, now let’s get another and keep up the pressure.”
So off went the unit centred by Cormier replaced by the one with Maxwell as the pivot.
“Corms was a little upset at not getting to take the offensive-zone faceoff,” said Maxwell with a slight smile, “so I wanted to make sure I did the job.”
He did, winning the draw and getting the puck back to Gagnon, who in turn fed it to defenceman Brett Festerling. In fact, within the eight seconds that passed before the puck entered the goal, four IceCaps — Jason King being the other — had touched the puck.
Another indication of the the fervor of the IceCaps during the brief OT: they had averaged one shot every two minutes and 24 seconds during regulation, but had four on the Penguins’ goal during the 27 ticks that constituted extra time on Sunday.
Notes: Brock Trotter (5-4-9) continues to lead the IceCaps in playoff scoring, while both he and defenceman Derek Meech have plus-seven ratings in this post-season ... Entering Monday, St. John’s Eddie Pasquale was leading all goalies in wins (6) during these Calder Cup playoffs, was second in minutes played (493), and fourth in both goal-against average (2.07) and save percentage (.932) ...The winner of the IceCaps-Penguins series will play whoever emerges from the other Eastern Conference semifinal between the Norfolk Admirals and Connecticut Whale. That one is tied 2-2 after the Whale won 4-1 Monday night in Hartford. The Whale is hosting Game 5 Wednesday night, but the contest will be played in Bridgeport, Conn., because Hartford's rink is unavailable. Not that might make that much difference — Monday's game had an attendance of only 1,461 ... Interesting note: Colin Fardy, the digital media co-ordinator for the IceCaps TM'd Don Power, the team's communication director, that the 50-50 payout Monday in Hartford was $201 ...