Second consecutive St. John’s victory sends Portland home empty-handed
St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Julian Melchiori (44) watches as the Portland Pirates’ Nick Johnson (32) sends a pass across the ice in front of him during the teams’ American Hockey League game at Mile One Centre on Wednesday night. The IceCaps held on for a 4-3 win, to sweep the two-game series, having won 3-2 on Tuesday night. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps may not be bound for the playoffs, but they aren’t showing any sign of allowing the opposition a clear path to the post-season either.
Carl Klingberg’s first goal since mid-February stood as the game-winner as the IceCaps downed the Portland Pirates 4-3 at Mile One Centre Wednesday, making it two nights in a row St. John’s defeated the Pirates, who are desperate for points to lock up a playoff spot in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
Jason Jaffray, Kael Mouillierat and Vinny Saponari, the latter with his first pro goal, also scored for St. John’s (31-34-6), which remains mathematically in the playoff hunt, but is very much at the mercy of what other teams do. For example, the IceCaps will be out of contention if either the Hershey Bears or Norfolk Admirals win two more games.
However, despite the circumstances, St. John’s has been playing some of its best hockey of the season over the last few weeks, going 8-2-1 in its last 11 games.
“Really good. Really good,” said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge, when asked his feelings about his team in the two-game sweep.
“Obviously, this time of year, the guys’ work ethic has stayed at a real high level. It was a really good effort from everyone.”
The Pirates (38-28-5) remain in sixth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, but still need points to nail down a playoff berth. They didn’t get any on this trip, despite the recent arrivals of goaltender Chad Johnson and defenceman David Rundblad from the parent Phoenix Coyotes.
McCambridge was particularly pleased the IceCaps displayed none of the dropoff in energy that’s almost become routine for the winner of the first game of the two-game series that make up St. John’s home schedule.
“We knew they (the Pirates) were a hungry team that’s fighting ... to make sure they’re in (the playoffs),” he said..
“They flew Rundblad all the way here with the importance of getting this game here tonight. I thought our veteran leaders did a real good job making sure the guys were aware what the coaching staff was pushing for.
“I thought everyone was one board. We didn’t have one guy who didn’t bring his ‘A’ game.”
Klingberg was a good example. His goal early in the third period, which came on an IceCaps’ power-play, was his first since Feb. 16 against Manchester. That stretch included 12 games played and a half-dozen more as a healthy scratch. But the Swedish winger did much more Wednesday, blocking shots in the defensive end, putting in considerable time killing penalties and showing some overall jump.
“There wasn’t enough battle in his game. He didn’t use his speed, which is his great asset,” said McCambridge about the reasons Klingberg had been spending so much recent time in the press box.
“But this one here, he defintely made a statement.”
Darian Dziurzinsky, Andy Miele and Rundblad scored for the Pirates.
St. John’s netminder Mark Dekanich made 28 saves for his seventh win in his last nine decisions, while Johnson faced 27 shots in the Portland goal.
The IceCaps close out their regular-season home schedule Saturday night and Sunday afternoon against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They then have three road games remaining, two against the Toronto Marlies and one against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
There may be no hotter line in the AHL these days than the IceCap unit of Mouillierat, Eric O’Dell and Josh Lunden. Through the last 12 games, including Wednesday’s when Mouillierat scored a goal that was assisted by O’Dell and Lunden, then added a helper of his own on Klingberg’s winner, the line has produced 18 goals and 44 points.
Mouillierat’s first-star performance was witnessed by many family members visiting from Alberta. They included his mother Sandy, father Denis, his aunts Pat and Maureen and uncles Con and Ken.
It was the first time Mouillierat’s parents have seen him in an American Hockey League game.
“Last year, it was kind of uncertain whether I was sticking around (in the AHL),” said Mouillierat, who spent part of the 2011-12 season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “So they didn’t want to make a trip cross-country not knowing that.
“But this year, they snuck in a trip at the end.”
Mouillierat said he “wasn’t thinking too much about who was in the stands,” during Wednesday’s game, but was happy for the presence of all his relatives, especially his parents.
“They’ve done so much for me. You kind of want to play well for them and make them proud. Hopefully, they are.”
IceCaps defenceman Travis Ramsey was the Coors Light second star Wednesday, while the Pirates’ Miele took third-star honours.
St. John’s rookie Adam Lowry, who earmed his first pro point with an assist on Saponari’s goal, was Brian Rogers’ choice as the Mary Browns hardest-working IceCap.
Notes: Rundblad’s arrival was a factor in why defenceman Goulds native James Melindy didn’t play for the Pirates and is still looking for his first pro appearance... Wednesday was the AHL trade deadline and there was a move involving the IceCaps. Surprisingly, considering their standing, it saw the IceCaps picking up a player, as they receive centre Mathieu Tousignant on loan from the Texas Stars. This season, Tousignant had a goal in 18 games with Dallas’s farm team and four goals and 15 assists in 28 games with Idaho of the ECHL. McCambridge says it’s a move designed to get a look-see at the 23-year-old Tousignant as a possible player for the The IceCaps next season... Finnish goalie Jussi (Juho) Olkinuora is in St. John’s after signing an amateur try-out deal with the IceCaps ... Olkinuora, who spent the last two seasons at the University of Denver, has actually been signed to a two-way, two-year entry-level contract with the parent Winnipeg Jets, but that deal won’t kick in until next season