With the potential for playoff implications on the line, the St. John’s IceCaps appeared to have reeled in the big fish Tuesday night, but instead wound up mere minnows in the tank late in a 3-2 loss to the Worcester Sharks.
The IceCaps, who entered the contest one point behind Worcester in the battle for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, allowed a pair of goals within a 1:47 span deep in the third period to cough up the lead and two valuable points.
“With the situation we’re in right now, a team one point ahead of us in the standings, this is a devastating loss,” said captain Jason Jaffray, who saw his two-goal effort ruined by the outcome.
Entering Tuesday’s slate of games, only two points separated six teams in the Nos. 7 through 12 spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
Worcester sat in ninth place, while the IceCaps were 11th.
By midnight, Worcester was in the eighth position, St. John’s 13th, wth three points and four teams between the IceCaps and the Sharks
“And with this being a division game, a game in which we can jump over that playoff line and into the playoff picture,” said Jaffray, “well, to let it slip away in the last three minutes is heartbreaking.”
After St. John’s grabbed a 2-1 lead on Jaffray’s eighth goal 6:31 into the third, Bracken Kearns scored at the 16:42 mark and Daniil Tarasov potted the game-winner just under two minutes later.
St. John’s entered Tuesday’s contest on a modest two-game win streak — the IceCaps posted their first sweep on home ice last weekend against the Binghamton Senators — while the Sharks limped into Mile One Centre with only one win in their last nine games.
Yet despite this series setup, it was Worcester which took the play to the IceCaps early on, dominating the first half of the opening period.
In fact, Tarasov put the Sharks on the board just 1:32 in. It remained 1-0 until Jaffray went to work, cashing in with the IceCaps shorthanded at 10:05.
The second period remained scoreless, although Kael Mouillierat hit the crossbar and Worcester goalie Harri Sateri made a big save off Kevin Clark alone in the slot.
Jaffray gave St. John’s the lead 6:31 into the third period, redirecting a Ray Sawada pass past Sateri with the Sharks’ John McCarthy in the penalty box for closing his hand on the puck.
Just as it looked the IceCaps would send away another sellout crowd of 6,287 happy, Kearns went to work … with a little help.
With Maxime Macenauer off for tripping, Kearns fired the puck on goal, but it banked in off a sprawling St. John’s defenceman Travis Ramsey past Eddie Pasquale.
The IceCaps barely had time to catch their breath when Tim Kennedy wheeled around a fired a lose puck at the faceoff circle towards Pasquale.
Tarasov managed to get a piece of the puck with his stick, redirecting it past a surprised St. John’s goalie.
“Whenever you have a chance to close out a team, you have to realize how you play with a lead,” said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge. “We got ourselves in trouble and lost the two points.
“We wanted these points. We knew these are four-point games, the potential for an eight-point swing in the division.
“So, it’s an emotional loss. Now we have to clean the slate and realize that we have to salvage the series (today).”
The teams meet again 7:30 tonight at Mile One.