It was a game that had a measure of just about everything, including two penalty shots -- one successful, one not; three shorthanded goals; and one young man playing for the first time before dozens of family members.
Unfortunately, for the St. John's IceCaps, their only participation in the above happenings Saturday night at Mile One Centre was the unsuccessful penalty-shot attempt.
The visiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins scored all the shorthanded goals, two on the same IceCaps power-play in the third period and another by second-generation Newfoundlander Ben Street on a penalty shot, in a 6-4 American Hockey League win over the IceCaps.
The Penguins (21-12-5), playing their first game against the IceCaps this season, arrived in St. John's with a record similar to that of the opposition. The bad news for the Caps that the similarity extends to their road performance. St. John's owns the best road winning percentage in the AHL (12-1-3, .844), but Wilkes-Barre (15-3-2 in away games) has more road wins than any other team in the league except for the Abbotsford Heat, which has 17.
Bryan Lerg scored twice for the Penguins, on an opening-period power-play and on the first of two crowd-shocking shorthanded tallies midway through the third period.
With the score tied 3-3 and Wilkes-Barre forward Cody Chupp serving a boarding minor, the home side had a chance to take its first lead since Kenndal McArdle scored the game-opening goal 13:12 in. Instead, a turnover at the Pens' blueline led to a two-on-one rush the other way, with Street setting up Lerg for the tally. But just while the IceCaps and their fans were dealing with that tremorous setback, came the aftershock, as yet another Caps giveaway led to defenceman Joey Mormina scoring, with Lerg picking up an assist.
St. John's did get back to within a goal when Jason Gregoire scored with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, but the Penguins sealed their winning deal when captain Ryan Craig scored his second of the night -- this one into an empty net -- in the final minute.
Brett Festerling and Ben Maxwell had the other goals for St. John's, which gets another shot at the Pens when the teams meet in a rematch 4 p.m. today at Mile One (Rogers Television, CJYQ Radio 930AM and online).
On Saturday, the shorthanded goals in the third became the game's chief turning point, which for a while looked to have its hinges attached to Street's successful -- and controversial -- penalty shot.
At 16:40 of the second period, the native of Coquitlam, B.C., was on a clear-cut breakaway — again the result of a turnover on a St. John's power play. He got away a clean shot, stopped by IceCaps' goalie David Aebischer, and even had an opportunity at a rebound. Street appeared to be in full stride throughout, but was hit on the leg by the stick of backchecking St. John's defenceman Jason DeSantis. Although Street didn't seem to be impeded, referee Tim Mayer, apparently cited that part of the rules that award a penalty shot when a player is denied " a more reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul,."
"My heart started racing pretty good once (Mayer) pointed to centre ice," said Street.
There were plenty of other emotions, including angry protests from the IceCaps and St. John's fans, which ironically, might have worked in the Penguins' favour.
"I was so tired from the penalty kill. Thankfully, they argued for a while and I was able to catch my breath," whose parents Rob and Jan (Randell) are both St. John's native.
Many of Street's relatives — his maternal grandfather is former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary chief Don Randell — had to have been delighted when he scored by deking out Aebischer, but Street didn't hear any of their cheers.
"I only heard the boos," he said.
IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge was in full agreement with the thousands of dissenters.
"I thought it was a bad call," said McCambridge. "(On the breakaway, Street) got a great shot away. It was a borderline penalty on the play, but not a penalty shot."
They may have been joking in an attempt to loosen up Street, but apparently even some of the Penguins spoke as if they thought they had received a break.
"I got a shot, I just about got a rebound and then I got a penalty shot. A lot of these guys asked me if I was related to the ref," Street said, chuckling.
The IceCaps would eventually tie the game at 3-3 in the third period, Maxwell scoring 10 seconds after teammate Carl Klingberg was denied on penalty shot awarded when he broke towards the Penguins goal, but was sent to the ice on a stick check from behind by Mormina. And two minutes after the Maxwell goal, the IceCaps appeared to have things going in their favour when they received the power play on Chupp's penalty. Instead, that's when things unravelled.
Within a couple of minutes, St. John's was trailing 5-3 and was zero-for-five on power plays, with three shorthanded goals against.
The IceCaps were missing all-star defenceman and power-play stalwart Paul Postma, who had been recalled by the parent Winnipeg Jets hours earlier. However, McCambridge, whose team has dealt very successfully with call-ups and injuries for most of the season, didn't feel Postma's absence was a contributor to the power-play woes.
"Did we miss him tonight? Was that a factor in the game not having Paul Postma? No. not for me," said McCambridge.
"It helps to have a guy like that back there, but we have other guys who can pick up the slack and have to get the job done, and we didn't."
Besides Postma, the IceCaps were missing forwards Marco Rosa, Riley Holzapfel and Shawn Weller, all out with injuries, although they did have centre Patrice Cormier, just returned from the parent Winnipeg Jets.
"We've lost guys all year," said Gregoire. "Guys go up, guys go down. That's the pro life. You have to deal with it."
Saturday's Molson Cup three stars: 1. Bryan Lerg, Penguins; 2. Gregoire, IceCaps; 3. Street, Penguins … The Mary Brown's hardest-working IceCap: Brett Festerling … Penguins' goalie Brad Thiessen faced 27 shots, while his IceCaps' counterpart, David Aebischer, dealt with 24 …During a first-period power play, IceCaps' forward Jason King took a slapshot from teammate Jason DeSantis off the helmet, forcing him to the bench, but King remained in the game and picked up an assist on Brett Festerling's second-period tally …Street isn't the only Penguin with a Newfoundland connection. Wilkes-Barre forward Zach Sill is a native of Truro, N.S., but lived in Conception Bay South for a few years a s a pre-schooler … Penguins' head coach John Hynes' starting lineup included Street and three Maritimers: Sill, forward and P.E.I. native Geoff Walker, and defenceman Alex Grant from Antigonish, N.S.