Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Pa.—This Calder Cup Eastern Conference final between the St. John’s IceCaps and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins has been a hotly-contested, hard-hitting, emotional affair.
A man’s game, as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice remarked this weekend.
Well, now it’s getting nasty, too.
The Penguins scored the game-winning goal with 16 seconds left in the third period Saturday night, and added an empty-netter nine seconds later to force the American Hockey League series back to St. John’s for a Game 6 Tuesday night.
If Game 7 is required, it will be played 7:30 Wednesday night at Mile One Centre.
Things got out of hand at the end of Saturday’s game, when Chuck Kobasew scored the empty net goal, with everyone on the ice – excluding goaltenders Michael Hutchinson and Peter Mannino – picking up 10-minute misconducts.
IceCaps defenceman Will O’Neill, probably frustrated after being taken heavily into the boards on an icing play in the first period, and the victim of what appeared to be a spear in the third, picked up a match penalty for high sticking.
O’Neill, who has emerged as the best IceCaps’ defenceman, might not be available to St. John’s Tuesday.
“You play each other five times in a row, you start to get bad blood,” said forward Andrew Gordon, who had two assists and takes over the league’s playoff scoring lead with eight goals and eight assists.
“You play back-to-back nights, a couple of games in a short period of time, you start to get to know guys you’re matching up against and one hit carries over to the next shift and you want to hit him back.
“Now it’s getting to the point of boiling over.”
Twenty-eight penalties were called in the game, 15 to the IceCaps.
Included were fighting majors to Jason Jaffray and Simon Despres, the result of a hard hit delivered to the St. John’s captain by the Penguins defenceman.
“You’re seeing tempers get out of control, seeing bad penalties,” Gordon said. “Emotions are starting to run a little out of control.
“It’s a playoff thing, but you have to check yourself and put the team first and don’t let your emotions get the best of you because that could be the difference in the game.”
The IceCaps scored the game’s first goal yet again – they’ve done that in 13 of 15 post season games – when O’Neill netted his second on a five-on-three power play.
St. John’s had a pair of goals with the man advantage, the third straight game the IceCaps have scored twice on the power play.
Patrice Cormier and former IceCap Spencer Machacek traded second period goals, and it stood 2-1 until 12:30 of the third.
The Penguins hemmed the IceCaps in their end for more than a minute, tossing the puck around as St. John’s failed on at least three occasions to clear the zone.
Kobasew, back in the lineup after sitting out the last three games to injury, netted the equalizer, his seventh of the playoffs.
“You could see the momentum switch,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge. “We blocked about three shots in a row, but they had the momentum and they were able to capitalize.”
It appeared overtime was imminent until Zach Sill picked the perfect time to score his first of the playoffs on a shot Hutchinson had no chance at stopping.
“It was a breakdown, simple as that,” McCambridge said. “We had two D caught in corner, and a guy left alone in front.”
“They were throwing everything at the net,” Gordon said. “Desperation sets in, and it paid off for them.”
So now the IceCaps get a chance to punch their ticket to the Calder Cup final on home ice. In the 17 years of American league hockey in St. John’s, there has been one AHL final appearance, in the St. John’s Maple Leafs’ first season in 1991-92.
The Texas Stars defeated the Toronto Marlies 2-1 Saturday to take a 3-2 lead. Game 6 is set for Monday in Cedar Park, Tex.