© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Albany Devils’ goaltender Keith Kincaid (centre) jumps on loose puck at the feet of St. John’s IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray (far right) as the Devil’s Seth Helgeson (2) defends during Game 3 of the teams’ American Hockey League best-of-five Eastern Conference quarter-final series Wednesday at Mile One Centre. The IceCaps won 1-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Friday, 7:30 p.m., back at Mile One.
St. John’s blank Albany Devils 1-0, take 2-1 lead in best-of-five series
It’s said Game 3 in a best-of-five series is the hardest to win, and Kael Mouillierat wasn’t stickhandling around the notion the St. John’s IceCaps’ 1-0 Wednesday night playoff win over the Albany Devils was a big one.
“Massive, actually,” Mouillierat said. “The third game can tilt a series either way, and we knew they were going to come out hard.
“But we did a good job matching their effort. It was a massive game for us.”
The victory gives the IceCaps a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarter-final after splitting the first two games of the series last weekend in Albany.
St. John’s can advance to the next round of the American Hockey League playoffs with a win Friday night at Mile One Centre.
Mouillierat scored the game’s only goal at 17:50 of the first period, taking a long feed from Zach Redmond and splitting the Devils’ defence before beating Keith Kinkaid on the backhand.
It was a goaltender’s duel Wednesday, as the IceCaps’ Michael Hutchinson posted his first playoff shutout with a 24-save effort. Kinkaid was positively brilliant for the Devils with 34 saves, including 16 in the first period.
He picked up where he left off Saturday — a 4-2 Devils’ win — when he made 20 saves alone in the third period of that game.
“He’s a solid goalie, we know that,” Mouillierat said, “but I don’t know if he was getting into our head.
“We know he’s not going to give away any easy ones, but we still just kept putting pucks to the net and hoping something good would happen.”
If there was any concern the IceCaps would come out tentative from the opening whistle, they were erased early on as St. John’s took the play to the Devils, outshooting their guests 10-1 11 minutes in.
But Kinkaid was equal to the task, making several fine saves, including a poke check on Eric O’Dell, who stepped from the penalty and broke in alone on the Albany goalie.
Minutes after Mouillierat scored, it was Hutchinson’s turn to shine as he foiled Chris McKelvie, who had skated in by himself with Albany shorthanded.
But perhaps Hutchinson’s biggest moment came in the third period with the Devils pressing for the equalizer. That’s when he stared down Mike Sislo, and made a point-blank save on the Devils’ forward.
That energized another sellout crowd even more, and carried the IceCaps to victory, although St. John’s did get a bit lucky in the dying seconds when little Joe Whitney missed an open net.
“We definitely wanted to use the crowd to our advantage, to get them involved,” Mouillierat said. “They were rocking and we definitely wanted to get on them (Devils) quick. And I think we did a good job of that.”
If there’s a fly in the ointment, however, it’s the IceCaps’ power play which continues to be a going concern.
St. John’s was zero-for-six, making the IceCaps one-for-14 in the series.
More concerning was the fact that outside one or two opportunities with the man advantage, St. John’s could manage very few quality scoring chances on the power play.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a concern,” Mouillierat said. “We have to figure it out here. You get that many power plays and you don’t score, a lot of times it’s going to come back to bite you.
“We’re trying different things, but I’m sure if we keep at it it’s going to come around.”
While the power play is a concern, there’s no denying the fact St. John’s is playing very well five-on-five.
Good enough so the team is on the verge of advancing to the next round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
NOTES: Will O’Neill saw his first playoff action this spring as he drew into the lineup when coach Keith McCambridge opted to go with seven defencemen and 11 forwards. That meant center Josh Lunden was scratched … Jon Merrill was a marked Devil Wednesday, taking three penalties in the first and second periods, at 18:12 of the first, 31 seconds into the second and 6:32 of the second … In the house last night was current New Jersey Devil Ryane Clowe … The Molson Canadian three stars were: 1. Michael Hutchinson 2. Keith Kinkaid 3. Kael Mouillierat … The Mary Browns hardest working IceCap was Carl Klingberg ...