By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor-Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Pa.
The St. John’s IceCaps scored early, and they scored often, on the power play and even strength.
At the other end of the rink, Michael Hutchinson was stopping everything coming his way.
It was not only a win for the IceCaps Wednesday, a dominating 5-0 performance over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, it was – dare we say it? – a statement win.
“Oh no, not by a mile,” cautioned Patrice Cormier, maybe the best IceCap on the Mohegan Sun Arena ice on this night, when St. John’s grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven American Hockey League Eastern Conference final.
“You look at that team, from the first line to the fourth line, they’re big names, great players. Their six defencemen are probably the top D pairings we’ve faced all year.
“We might have gotten the best of them tonight, but I’m sure they’ll be mad and they’ll be ready to go for Game 4.”
It was the IceCaps’ most dominating performance of the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs as Hutchinson stopped 30 shots for his second shutout in the post season, Eric O’Dell collected a goal and an assist and Andrew Gordon had three assists before 3,553 fans.
The win also produced a pair of power play goals for the IceCaps, who were zero-for-eight entering last night’s tilt.
They were an ornery group of Penguins in this mid-week game, players clad in 15th anniversary jerseys who picked up abuse of officials misconducts, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and fighting majors.
One of the IceCaps’ goals, by Kael Mouillierat, came on a five-on-three power play with Tom Kostopoulos off for roughing and Zach Sill in the box for interference at the same time.
“First of all, they’re not going to back down,” said Cormier, who scored his first goal of the playoffs, on the power play, to open scoring.
“They’re coming back harder. You lose a game, and you want to come back harder. But we want to win, too, and we’ll be ready, we’ll be pushing back.
“We better be ready because they’re going to be coming at us, they’re going to be flying. They can score on any shift. Go down the line, they’re a talented team.
“We’ll take the win now, but it’s over. We’ll get ready for Game 4.”
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The IceCaps, who split with the Penguins last Saturday and Sunday night at Mile One Centre, have a chance to grab a 3-1 lead in the series and edge closer to a Calder Cup championship final appearance.
Cormier, one of three IceCaps forwards who have appeared in all 12 post season games but without a goal entering last night’s tilt, finally registered on the scoreboard, tapping in a power play tally 11:24 in on a nice setup from rookie rearguard Josh Morrissey.
Just under two minutes later, it was Jason Jaffray cashing in on some good work by Gordon for his third goal.
O’Dell started the second-period assault 1:35 after the drop of the puck, scoring his eight goal – which shares him with Gordon for the team lead – and ended when Redmond blasted a one-timer from the blueline with one-tenth of a second left on the clock.
That came after the Penguins iced the puck, and it sandwiched Mouillierat’s third goal.
The IceCaps chased Peter Mannino from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goal after the second period, scoring five goals on 24 shots. Matt Murray, who played this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, stopped eight shots in the third period.
But if you want to talk goaltending, it begins and ends with Hutchinson, who joins Toronto Marlies netminder Drew MacIntyre with a pair of shutouts in these Calder Cup playoffs.
“It’s always nice when you get a shutout, but at the same time, it doesn’t matter if it’s a shutout or a 6-5 win,” Hutchinson said. “A win is a win in the playoffs, and that’s all you really care about.
“You don’t look at your own stats. The only thing that matters is the team is winning. Guys were blocking shots tonight, picking up their guys, throwing their bodies around. It felt like they made the game easy for me.”
The teams go at it again 8:35 (NL time) tonight, with Game 5 set for Saturday night in Pennsylvania.
If Games 6 and 7 are needed, they will be played next Tuesday and Wednesday in St. John’s.