Jason King scored the winner with 1:22 remaining in the third period and Eddie Pasquale turned in an outstanding goaltending performance as the St. John's IceCaps rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch Friday night in the IceCaps' first-ever American Hockey League playoff game.
The first two games of the best-of-five opening-round playoff series are being played in Syracuse, with Game 2 tonight. Game 3 will go Wednesday at Mile One Centre in St. Johns, with Games 4 and 5, if necessary, also set for Mile One.
Derek Meech and Aaron Gagnon also scored for the IceCaps. Meech, who provided the game's first marker early in the second period, finished with two points, as did Ben Maxwell, who set up King's goal and Gagnon's third-period tally, which tied the game at 2-2.
Kyle Palmieri, on a second-period power play, and Mark Bell replied for the Crunch. Bell's was a third-period goal giving Syracuse a lead that lasted only 47 seconds before Gagnon beat Iiro Tarkki at 12:22.
Pasquale, in his professional playoff debut, had an outstanding game, making 35 saves. Some of his best work came in the opening period, when the Crunch came out on a charge. At one point, shots were 11-3 in favour of Syracuse, but the St. John's goalie kept the game scoreless entering the first intermission.
"He was the difference in the first part of the game," said Keith McCambridge, the IceCaps head coach.
McCambridge wasn't surprised at the intensity of the Crunch to open the game, given that Syracuse had to scramble to earn a playoff spot, only clinching a berth and the seventh seed with a win on the final day of the regular season.
So while the Crunch was already in top gear, the IceCaps, who had been locked in as the Eastern Conference second seed well before season's end, were still trying to find the clutch.
"Syracuse was in that playoff mode for the last two or three weeks and you could expect they would bring that into the game," he said. "For us, where we didn't have to through that, you could see where we were slowly getting into the mindset of what it takes to win playoff games.
"But we did, and by the third period, we were doing those things.
"Can we do them better? Yes, but the fact we kept getting better is what's important."
The IceCaps went zero-for-five on the power play, but McCambridge said he wasn't too bothered about lack of production in Game 1.
"Syracuse is very aggressive on the penalty kiill, but our (power-play) units have people still getting used to each other," said McCambridge, referring to the likes of Meech and Brock Trotter, who only returned from long-term injury-list stays in the past couple of weeks.
"It's not a huge concern for me."
IceCaps' defenceman Arturs Kulda was in discomfort after a second-period hit and did not play in the third because of what McCambridge calls "precautionary" reasons. "We'll see how he feels in the morning and go from there," said McCambrige. If Kulda doesn't play tonight, expect Zach Redmond to draw into the lineup ... Friday's three stars: 1. King, SJs 2. Bell, Syr. 3 Pasquale SJs; Maxwell was the choice as the hardest-working IceCap player .. The Crunch's top line of Palmieri, Patrick Maroon and former St. John's player Riley Holzapfel was minus-two Friday ... Tarkki faced 29 shots in front of a less-than-sellout, but extremely loud crowd of 4,921 ... Game time tonight is 9 p.m. NT, with Brian Rogers' pre-game show beginning about a half-hour earlier on CJYQ 930 AM,TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg and online at Steele Communications websites and stjohnsicecaps.com