© Keith Gosse The Telegram
Andrew Gordon beats Wilkes-Barre/Penguins goalie Peter Mannino for the St. John's IceCaps' first goal of the game at 13:42 of the first period. Gordon would score twice in the game, but St. John`s would lose 3-2.
By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins just came off a tough, down-to-the-wire seven-game, second-round playoff series against the Providence Bruins, yet it was the visitors with the jump in their skates Saturday night in the opening game of the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final at Mile One Centre.
The Penguins scored twice in the second period, and former St. John’s netminder Peter Mannino stopped 31 shots as the Pens skipped past the IceCaps 3-2.
Game 2 of the series goes 7:30 Sunday night at Mile One.
Saturday’s game was the first for the IceCaps in seven days, since St. John’s knocked off the Norfolk Admirals last Friday night at Mile One.
Strangely enough, the IceCaps didn’t show any rust in an evenly-played opening 20 minutes, as both teams managed to get on the scoreboard.
However, the second period told a different story as the Penguins outshot their hosts 14-5 and generally outplayed the IceCaps for 20 minutes.
“They’re a team that just played a Game 7, and we had a layoff, but it didn’t seem to me it made much a difference,” said Andrew Gordon, who scored both St. John’s goals.
“Bottom line is we only had five shots in the second period, and that’s not enough. You need more (offensive) zone time, more opportunities in their end, more second chance opportunities.
“We turned over too many pucks in the neutral zone, and that resulted on the odd-man rushes they were converting on.”
After veteran Chuck Kobasew and Gordon traded first-period goals, the Pens jumped out to a 2-1 lead 2:32 into the second when Conor Sheary, signed to an amateur tryout after captaining the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this season, beat Michael Hutchinson on a shot the IceCaps goalie should have stopped.
Then, at the 14:36 mark, Tom Kostopolous, who like Kobasew is a veteran with plenty of NHL experience, followed up on a two-on-one Penguins break and blasted a shot low to the stick side which beat the St. John’s netminder.
Gordon breathed some life into another sellout crowd of 6,287 early into the third period, connecting for his eighth goal of the playoffs at 5:31, but that would be it for the scoring.
“It’s a simple game: when you put the puck in deep, it’s tough to play against,” Gordon said. “We were a little bit too easy to play against tonight, not physical enough.”
Mannino returned to Mile One exacted some revenge on the team with which he appeared in 10 games three years ago.
He saved his best for when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton needed it the most, coming up with a pair of big stops with less than four minutes left in regulation, including a huge glove save off an Andrew Kichton shot from the point that was his best of the night.
“It was a situation where he made saves when he had to, particularly when St. John’s made a really big push,” said Penguins coach John Hynes. “I thought we had some exceptional blocked shots, and Peter did the rest with some big saves, which is what you need this time of year.
“If there’s a breakdown or teams push back, you need your goaltender back there coming up big, and Peter did that tonight,” Hynes said.
Hutchinson made 29 saves in the IceCaps’ net.