Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Pa. — The St. John’s IceCaps figure to face a fired up Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team tonight in Game 3 of their American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final — so the IceCaps won’t be caught flat-footed from the first drop of the puck.
“We know they’re going to come out hard, so we have to ensure we weather the storm in the first 10 minutes,” said forward Andrew Gordon, who leads St. John’s with eight goals in the post season.
“We know they play well in this building, and we’ve played enough regular season and playoff games to know the way they come out, and that’s with a lot of energy.”
The series is tied 1-1 following a split last weekend in St. John’s. The Pens won the opener 3-2, but the IceCaps came back with a 2-1 win in Game 2.
One interesting stat dug up by the league indicates neither the IceCaps (4-0) nor the Penguins (6-0) have ever lost a series after winning Game 3 when it was tied 1-1.
“All games in the playoffs are important, obviously, but it’s true, the odd-numbered games — 1, 3, 5 and 7 — are especially important because those are the games where someone is taking a step forward unless an advantage has been given already,” Gordon said.
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“We want to take the next step and get home ice advantage back into our favour.”
The Penguins are 8-5 in the Calder Cup playoffs, while the IceCaps are 8-4. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has scored 40 goals while giving up 35, whereas St. John’s has tallied 33 goals and has allowed only 23.
Michael Hutchinson has played every minute in goal for the IceCaps in the playoffs, sporting a 1.81 goals against average and .941 save percentage.
Peter Mannino, who toiled for the IceCaps in their first season two years ago, has also played in all the Penguins’ games and has a 2.44 GAA and .907 save percentage.
“We have to be ready,” Gordon said. “But like two fighters trying to knock each other out in the first 10 minutes, dangerous things can happen.
“So we have to prepare to play a strong defensive game, and make smart puck decisions. We have to limit their opportunities on the forecheck, limit their odd-man rushes because we can’t fuel their speed and their energy. We have to smother them in our zone, and limit their possession of the puck.
“It’s a bit of a strategic thing where you know what they’re going to bring, and we have to bring our own game, at the same time knowing they’re going to have a little extra push.”
Jerome Samson, a 27-goal scorer for the IceCaps in the regular season who was a healthy scratch in Game 2, will not play tonight. It's likely coach Keith McCambridge will use the same lineup that won the second game of the series.