St. John’s squanders two-goal third-period lead, fall to Hamilton in shootout
If the glass is half full, the St. John’s IceCaps have a playoff berth tucked in their back pocket, and reinforcements on the way from Winnipeg.
If it’s half empty, on a night after the team secured the ticket to the post-season dance, the IceCaps likely saw their slim hopes of an Atlantic Division crown dashed with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs at Mile One Centre.
Not that it’s a big deal, mind you. After the spring of 2013 spent on the sidelines, the IceCaps — not to mention the Mile One faithful — are happy to be back playing hockey in late April. But they don’t want to be losing too many games between now and next Saturday night when the regular season winds up in Portland, Me.
“I strongly believe that you cannot dial it down, and then all of a sudden get your game up to the top level in a short best-of-five series,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge.
“Especially if you look at our conference right now. The conference is excellent. The competition from one to nine is outstanding, so it is going to be a really tough first round.
“So you can’t expect to sit back and then try to find your game in a short series.”
The IceCaps’ loss Wednesday night, coupled with the Manchester Monarchs’ 5-0 throttling of the Portland Pirates, leaves St. John’s seven points behind Manchester in the Atlantic Division, with four games to play. The Monarchs have three.
Rather, St. John’s seems to be firmly entrenched in the No. 4 overall position in the Eastern Conference, five points up on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Pens have a game in hand.
The Springfield Falcons, leaders of the Northeast Division, hold down the No. 2 spot and the Binghamton Senators are third. The IceCaps actually have a better record than the Sens, but the top three seeds are reserved for the divisional leaders and Bingo leads Wilkes-Barre by the slimmest of margins.
The Senators and Penguins actually have 88 points apiece, but it’s Bingo with the nod now because it has 41 wins to Wilkes-Barre’s 40.
As it stands, the IceCaps will be playing the No. 5 team in the first round, that being either the Senators or Penguins.
Those teams will face each other twice before the season concludes.
Meanwhile, getting back to Wednesday night, the shootout loss marked the ninth time in the last 11 starts the IceCaps have picked up at least a point.
The bad news is they coughed up a 3-1 lead.
Mike Blunden’s goal with 12:54 left in regulation time forced overtime and the eventual shootout which saw Sven Andrighetto and Martin St. Pierre beat Tyler Beskorowany, while Devan Dubnyk stopped all four shots he faced in the Bulldogs’ net.
The IceCaps led 2-1 after 20 minutes on goals by John Albert — his fifth in the past four games — and Kyle MacKinnon, sandwiched by a Greg Pateryn marker for the Bulldogs.
Rookie Adam Lowry netted his 17th on the year at 17:39 of the second for a 3-1 St. John’s lead, but Hamilton got that back just 17 seconds later on a Drew Schiestel goal.
That set the stage for Blunden in the third, who redirected a nice feed from Gabriel Dumont past Beskorowany. It was Dumont’s third assist on the night.
The IceCaps were hitless in three attempts on the power play, and that aspect of their game continues to struggle. St. John’s is zero-for-23, and counting, with the man advantage, but that’s likely to change when Eric O’Dell, Carl Klingberg, Zach Redmond and Ben Chiarot return from Winnipeg, and Kael Mouillierat gets back from IR.
McCambridge said he didn’t know when to expect those players, although Winnipeg’s season ends Friday against the Calgary Flames.
The IceCaps’ four remaining games are Saturday and Sunday at Mile One against the Hartford Wolf Pack, and next Friday and Saturday against the Sharks and Pirates in Worcester, Mass., and Portland.
NOTES: The Winnipeg Jets recalled forward Patrice Cormier prior to the game. His place in the lineup was taken by Ryan Schnell … Brenden Kichton has earned a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie team with fellow defenceman Ryan Sproul of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Kichton has 10 goals and 35 assists … The IceCaps wore special Stars and Legends jerseys in honour of Sport Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual awards and Hall of Fame gala Saturday night at the Sheraton Hotel … Since Feb. 8, John Albert has scored more goals (19) than anyone else in the AHL … The Mary Brown’s hardest-working IceCap was Brenden Kichton … The Molson Canadian three stars were 1. Gabriel Dumont 2. Jordan Hill 3. Mike Blunden …