© — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The St. John’s IceCaps’ Andrew Gordon (left) and the Hamilton Bulldogs’ Mike Blunden (centre) vie for the puck as John Albert moves in during the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) game at Mile One Centre on Tuesday night. The IceCaps skated to a 3-1, securing a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs. The teams meet again tonight, 7:30, back at Mile One.
St. John’s defeats Hamilton 3-1 at Mile One Centre, rematch tonight
After languishing through a sub-.500 season last year, the St. John’s IceCaps are back in the playoffs after securing a Calder Cup post-season berth with a 3-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs Tuesday night at Mile One Centre.
The IceCaps’ 43rd win also tied the team’s season-high record in that department, with a chance to set a new mark tonight when the teams go at it again.
St. John’s sits in fourth place in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, behind the Manchester Monarchs, Springfield Falcons and Binghamton Senators.
The IceCaps have a better record than the Sens, but the top three playoff spots in the conference are reserved for the division winners.
John Albert’s team-leading 24th goal at 12:10 of the third period was the winner as both teams battled through a scoreless 40 minutes of play.
“Our goal from the beginning of the year was playoffs,” said Albert, whose play has seen a marked improvement since a pair of stints with the parent Winnipeg Jets this season.
“I think the group of guys we have knew that we would pull together and make a push for the playoffs. Now we’re just hoping to make a run (in the post-season).”
Patrice Cormier finally solved Hamilton netminder Devan Dubnyk, who spent most of this season — and the past three — in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, with a goal nine seconds into the third period. Will O’Neill added an insurance marker at the 16:01 mark, his ninth on the year.
Connor Crisp broke Tyler Beskorowany’s shutout bid with his first pro goal at 16:47 of the third.
Beskorowany finished the night with 35 saves. Dubnyk made 36 stops.
The IceCaps now have five games remaining in the regular season — tonight, this Saturday and Sunday at home against the Hartford Wolf Pack, and the following Friday and Saturday in Worcester, Mass., and Portland, Me. — but don’t expect St. John’s to cruise through the remainder of the regular season.
“Clinching a spot with five games left is nice, but we have to keep on pushing, view every game as a playoff game,” Albert said. “We want to keep on building confidence and building wins.”
If there’s a bugaboo with the IceCaps, it’s their zero-for-20, and counting, power play slump, but given the way the team is playing right now, that’s like complaining about owning a sports car with no cup holder.
In their last 10 games, the IceCaps are 6-4, but have picked up points in eight of those starts.
St. John’s has three players with 20 or more goals — Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson joining Albert — and two more with 18 — Jason Jaffray and Kael Mouillierat. Rookie Adam Lowry has 16.
“I like this team,” Albert said. “Guys are willing to play for each other, and when you have that, it takes you a long way.”
NOTES: Kael Mouillierat, who was reported by the IceCaps to miss the remainder of the season with injury, took the pre-game skate. It’s likely he will get in a game or three before the end of the regular season … John Albert was busy Tuesday night, with a game-high eight shots. He finished plus-two … The Mary Brown’s hardest-working IceCap was Patrice Cormier … The Molson Canadian three stars were 1. John Albert 2. Tyler Beskorowany 3. Devan Dubnyk …