Wilkes-Barre, Pa.— Eddie Pasquale was worth the price of admission Saturday night. Brock Trotter has been worth the wait.
Pasquale made 28 saves in a spectacular goaltending performance and Trotter scored both the St. John's IceCaps' goals, including the game-winner 10:02 into overtime, as the IceCaps beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1 to re-take the lead in their second-round American Hockey League series.
St. John's is up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal heading into Game 4 this afternoon (5:35 p.m. NT) at the Mohegan Sun Center in Wilkes-Barre.
The IceCaps have scored six goals in the three games with the Penguins. Four of them are by Trotter, who was acquired in a March 2 AHL deadline deal with the Portland Pirates engineered by St. John's general manager Craig Heisinger. However, Trotter was injured at the time and wouldn't appear in a game for St. John's until five weeks later, only dressing for a couple of contests during the IceCaps' regular-season ending road trip.
"Craig Heisinger, the research he did on Brock Trotter, to take the chance he took, to see if (Trotter) was going to be 100 per cent for playoffs, is paying off for us now," said St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge after Saturday's game.
Trotter got the chance to pay off in OT Saturday thanks to the work of Pasquale, who had at least a half-dozen saves which left the 4,200-plus Penguins fans in attendance moaning and groaning and the few IceCaps supporters on-hand cheering at their brilliance.
One of those stops came just before the game-winner, when Pasquale denied Geoff Walker's shot from the edge of the faceoff circle. Then, after Wilkes-Barre defenceman Philip Samuelsson got caught pinching, the play was reversed towards the Penguins' end. As St. John's rookie Carl Klingberg worked hard to join the rush, Trotter moved the puck in front of the Penguins' goal. An attempted pass to Klingberg went off defenceman Joey Mormina, but Trotter regained control and slid a shot past goalie Brad Thiessen.
"Klinger was driving to the net with speed and any time I have a guy backing off the D, it's a plus ... gives me time to make a play," said Trotter, who has had at least a point in all seven of St. John's playoff games and nine in total (five goals, four assists).
Trotter's first goal came in much different fashion midway through the first period, when he redirected defenceman Zach Redmond's feed out of mid-air and past Thiessen. Trotter was well off to the side at the time, but Redmond, playing his first game in the series, faked a shot, took a second look and flipped the puck towards his teammate.
“He definitely saw me on the side there. He definitely wasn’t shooting it," said Trotter.
"Great play by Reds there and again, Klinger made a great play driving to the net (on the game-winner). We need players making good reads like those for players like me to make plays offensively."
The IceCaps also needed great work by Pasquale, who made Trotter's first goal stand until Eric Tangradi forced overtime when he poked the puck past the St. John's goalie with 1:06 remaining in regulation and Thiessen pulled for an extra skater.
Given the timing of Tangradi's tally, the venue and the fact the IceCaps had managed little offensively — they were credited with 18 shots overall, including just five in the third period and not one in the second — it might have seemed impossible for them to reverse the momentum that was clearly going the home side's way.
"It's a matter of how you can cope with it and I think we did a good job with that (in the dressing room) between the third and OT," said Trotter.
"We actually had some guys with real good shifts there (to start overtime). So it was a little different than the third, when we were protecting the lead and playing it a little more safe then we'd like."
However, Trotter believes the IceCaps' recovery after the Tangradi goal actually started before the intermission. He pointed to the dying seconds of regulation when St. John's came close to scoring due to the work of the line of Aaron Gagnon, Jason King and Ben Maxwell.
"To tell you the truth, the shift after (Wilkes-Barre) scored, Kinger, Gags and Maxy had an unbelievable push-back shift and I think that was a big part ... I think that was a huge part of going into overtime knowing we could get back in it," said Trotter.
It was a thought echoed by Pasquale.
"We have a great group of guys. We stick together. Everyone saw we were hanging on there in the third, chipping the puck out," said Pasquale, "but when they scored, we came right back and almost scored, so the guys stayed positive.
"Sometimes, it's like (the opposition) has to score for us to wake up a little bit."