Derek Meech and the St. John's IceCaps worked a little overtime Friday to get a day off today.
Meech scored 5:01 into extra time to give the IceCaps a 4-3 win over the Syracuse Crunch Friday night at Mile One Centre, advancing St. John's to the second round of the American Hockey League's Calder Cup playoffs.
St. John's took the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarter-final 3-1. Had the Crunch won Friday, the teams would have played a Game 5 tonight. As it is, the IceCaps get today off as they begin preparing to face either the Hershey Bears or Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a best-of-seven second round series that begins Tuesday at Mile One.
"All day, I was thinking that I didn't want to go to a Game 5 with these guys (the Crunch) because if you leave anything up to chance, anything can happen," said Meech, who watched his team battle back from a 2-0 first-period deficit Friday.
"And I was thinking after the third period 'Man, I could use a day off tomorrow.'"
The 27-year-old defenceman then provided the holiday with his his third goal in four games and his second game-winner of the series. It came came after he took an across-the-ice feed from Brock Trotter, then fired a low slapshot from along the boards, beating Syracuse goalie Iiro Tarkki to the stick side.
Tarkki never seemed to see the shot, as IceCaps' centre Patrice Cormier provided a screen down low, while linemate Spencer Machacek was doing the same up high.
"You could see from the bench it was going to go in. (Meech) had the far side to shoot to (and) it was a heck of shot, I'll tell you that. He sure stepped into it," said St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge. "But we got traffic and we wanted to get traffic in front of the goaltender because in overtime, no shot is a bad shot."
The goal, predictably, sent the full house at Mile One into a frenzy, although long-time observers wondered if they had ever heard the decade-old building that loud in a hockey game. Everyone agreed the noise level set a record for this, the IceCaps' first season.
"When Meech scored that goal, I never heard anyone chant so loud," said St. John's rookie winger Carl Klingberg, who wasn't sure if he had added to the decibel level with a victory cry.
"I probably did, but I don't remember. I just remember we won."
Klingberg had definitely yelled in celebration early in the second period when he scored the IceCaps' first goal of the contest. It also was his first in 18 games, ending a drought stretching back to March 6.
"I hadn't scored in … I don't know how long, but you have to come to work and keep trying and today, I got one in," said Klingberg. "I actually had a few more chances where I could have scored, but I'm happy for the one I did."
Klingberg's tally, combined with another by fellow rookie John Albert less than two minutes later, helped erase a 2-0 lead the Crunch had established in a first period that was the IceCaps' worst of the series. Ill-advised passes, soft clearing attempts and bad choices all around had the home team on its heels and turned down the volume switch of the 40th consecutive sellout crowd at Mile One.
McCambridge felt the turnover-filled opening period was partly the product of a team still working at meshing. St. John's had gone through what seemed to be a constant roster flux in the last quarter of the regular season, mainly due to injuries, and it was only on the eve of the playoffs that the present group really came together.
"It's the result of team being pieced into a lineup with us adding guys and feeling our identity again. As this series went on, with the exception of that first period, I thought this team started to grow, to bond," said McCambridge, adding he believed the first-round win would "really galvanize the group."
Meech, who missed all but eight regular-season games with knee injuries, was one of those late-added pieces, as was Trotter, who was hurt when he picked up at the AHL trade deadline and didn't make his IceCaps debut until the final game of the regular season. Another trade-deadline acquisition and player coming off an injury-filled second-half of the season was winger Ray Sawada, who scored at 6:55 of the third to tie the game 3-3.
Emerson Etem, with two, and Mark Bell had the goals for the Crunch as they took advantage of the sloppy start by the home side.
Bell and Etem scored 36 seconds apart in the first five minutes of the contest, with Bell's came on an innocent-looking 35-foot wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that seemed to surprise IceCaps' goalie Eddie Pasquale. On the very next shift, and on the Crunch's very next shot, Etem finished off a tic-tac-toe play for the first playoff goal of his pro career.
The Crunch had more chances to score in the opening frame, but the IceCaps managed to hold the barricades long enough to go into the first intermission unscathed any further.
It was a welcome break and one the home side apparently put to good use. The IceCaps stormed back to start the second, getting the goals from Klingberg, set up nicely by teenaged centre Mark Schiefele, and Albert, with his second in as many games.
"It says we have a lot of character in the room," answered Meech when asked about the second period comeback."The guys don't panic and that's a huge thing in the playoffs, controlling your emotions. We knew we had to shape up, but Keith came in and gave us a little talking too and we went back out and turned it around."
So much so that Syracuse didn't have a shot on goal through the first 15 minutes of the second period, but once the Crunch started getting pucks through, it wasn't long before they regained the lead; Etem scored his second of the night at 15:35 as he redirected a Mat Clark feed past Pasquale.
Sawada tied it again 6:55 into the third with the IceCaps on a power-play. The big right-winger, parked in front of Tarkki, swept a rebound of Aaron Gagnon's low shot past the Syracuse goaltender. Both teams had chances for a regulation game-winner on wild scrambles in the closing 30 seconds of the third, but the full house of 6,287 had to wait through a full-time break and then 301 seconds of action before Meech's marker finished the game, ended Syracuse's season and almost popped the top of Mile One with the resulting roar of the crowd.
"Again, right from the the start of the game, they were so loud and then at the end … that was something." said Meech. "It was nice to come through for them and bring some more playoff hockey here."
The Bears and Penguins play a deciding Game 5 in their series tonight in Hershey, Pa., with the winner preparing for a trip to Newfoundland.
The IceCaps will have home-ice advantage in the second-round series, with the first two games to be played at Mile One Tuesday and Wednesday. The scene will then switch to one of the two Pennsylvania locations for three games, beginning sometime during the first weekend in May. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are scheduled for Mile One on May 11 and 12.
Tickets for the second-round games at Mile One go on sale at the stadium's box office beginning noon today.
The game in St. John's was one of three AHL contests Friday night that had overtime results to end series. That's never happened before in league history. In Manchester, N.H., the regular-season champion Norfolk Admirals beat the Monarchs 4-3 in OT to advance to a second-round Eastern Conference semifinal against the Connecticut Whale, while at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., the San Antonio Rampage knocked off and knocked out the Chicago Wolves with a 3-2 decision in double overtime …Shots on goal Friday at Mile One were 38-31 in favour of the IceCaps ... st. John's was 1-7 on the power play, while Syracuse was 0-4 ... Friday's three stars: 1 Meech 2. Etem 3. Sawada. Albert was the choice as the hardest-working IceCap player … The Crunch lost top-scoring defenceman Mathieu Carle to an unspecified injury midway through the game and he did not return. Injuries hurt the Crunch in the series; rookie centre Peter Holland, Syracuse's second-leading scorer in the regular season, didn't see any post-season action because of a suspected concussion suffered on the last weekend of the regular season … Meech has five points (3G, 2A) and a plus-five rating through the first four playoff games. Gagnon (3G, 2A) also has five points … The payout on the 50-50 draw Friday night at Mile One: $19,400 ... email@example.com