It all comes down to tonight
The St. John's IceCaps didn't display much of a killer instinct Friday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
They have one more apportunity to show it.
Given a second chance for a win to advance them to the third round of the American Hockey League's Calder Cup playoffs, the IceCaps instead dropped a 4-2 decision to the Penguins at Mile One Centre, a result that will send their AHL Eastern Conference semifinal to a Game 7 tonight at Mile One.
"We just didn't execute the way we can, that's the reality of it," said IceCaps winger Jason King after the game, which saw Wilkes-Barre score twice in the the third period.
St. John's had led the series 3-1, but lost a 3-2 double overtime decision Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre and couldn't close it out in Game 6 before a 42nd straight sellout crowd at Mile One.
Zach Sill and Paul Thompson scored in the third period for the Penguins, looking to become just the 18th team in AHL history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series
The IceCaps and packed house had real hopes for a clinching decision late in the second period after having scored consecutive power-play goals earlier in the frame. But the home team ran into penalty trouble in the form of a tripping call against Brett Festerling, a slashing minor on Patrice Cormier and delay of game on Aaron Gagnon for a sending the puck into the stands. Amongst those, the Penguins' Eric Tangradi took a minor, but with eight seconds left in the frame and the Penguins holding a four-on-three advantage, Cal O'Reilly tied it up for Wilkes-Barre with a shot that eluded goalie Eddie Pasquale.
Even though that only tied the game and St. John's would go on to successfully kill off the remainder of the penalties at the start of the third, that juncture was a turning point, especially when considering Penguins' goalie Brad Thiessen had stopped the IceCaps' Aaron Gagnon on a shorthanded break with less than two minutes left in the second frame. Had Gagnon scored, St. John's would have led 3-1. As it was, the game would be tied within 100 seconds of Thiessen's big save on Gagnon's deke attempt.
"The power play-goal against at the end of the second was a real momentum killer for us,” McCambridge said. “Overall, (those were) some penalties you just can’t take this time of the year.”
Winger Ray Sawada, who had one of the two St. John's goals, agreed the IceCaps hit potholes late in the second and early in the third.
"There's only a certain amount of people who do penalty kills, so for the rest of the people on the bench who don't, it takes away the flow of the game," he said.
"So yeah, we need to stay out of the box, so we can roll all four lines. That's when we are playing our best."
Jason Williams, with the game-opening power-play marker midway through the first period had the other Penguins' goal, while Cormier also scored St. John's, which never quite appeared to have the stuff to put the game — and series — away.
Sill's game-winner came 5:31 into the hid when a shot by Geoff Walker hit him in the leg and got past Pasquale. Thompson's insurance tally came with less than four minutes remaining in the game as he converted on a backhand after a rush down the left side.
The Thompson goal came after one of what seemed innumerable St. John's turnovers as the IceCaps struggled mightily to organize a sustained attack, in part because of their own bobbles and bumbles, in part due to an aggressive Penguins' forecheck.
"The problem is that Wilkes-Barre wants to win also," said McCambridge of an opponent that hustled in the offensive end and blocked shots like demons defensively.
"We're at our best when we get pucks behind them, but we spent too much time chasing pucks around in our own end," said King.
"It's a fun game to play when we get in their end and cycle and use our speed. We just haven't done that enough in the last couple of games."
It was a sombre IceCaps' dressing room after the contest — Pasquale, for example, looked to be in his own thoughts as he continually wrapped and unwrapped tape on his stick — but there was also a realization that despite another lost opportunity, another one was less than 24 hours away.
"It's a Game 7 on your on your home ice. We came here needing to win one of two. That's still the case," said McCambridge.
To do so, they'll need to but the brakes on a momentum-fueled Penguins team.
"Anything can happen, but we need to make things happen," said King. "During the season, we worked hard to put ourselves in this situation, to get home-ice advantage, to play in front of our fans.
"Now we need to make the most of it."
Game time is 7:30 p.m., with Brian Rogers' pre-game show on CJYQ 930 AM and online, as well as Rogers Television's coverage of the game, beginning 30 minutes earlier.
Each side had 31 shots in the game … The Coors Light three stars : 1 Brad Thiessen, Penguins 2. Zach Sill, Penguins 3. Derek Meech, IceCaps … Cormier was the Mary Brown's hardest-working IceCaps … Defenceman Arturs Kulda, who had missed Game 5 with a leg injury, came back into the St. John's lineup, as did centre Marco Rosa, who hadn't played since Game 2. Jason DeSantis and Mark Scheifele were bumped to the press box as a result … There were no changes to the Penguins lineup … The best example of Wilkes-Barre's willingness to block shots came in the second period when forward Bryan Lerg hobbled to the dressing room in obvious pain after getting in front of a Paul Postma blast … What has been a continual back-and-forth battle between St. John's forward Jason King and Penguins' defenceman Robert Bortuzzo generated their second end-of-the game scrap of the series ... Whoever emerges from this series will face the Norfolk Admirals in the Eastern Conference final. Norfolk advanced with a 2-1 Game 6 overtime win over the Connecticut Whale on Friday ..