Updated to show that IceCaps will face Texas Stars in the final
The St. John's IceCaps - the team that couldn't consistently win on home ice, and couldn't score a power play goal earlier on this season - are off to the Calder Cup finals.
Yup, you read that right.
The IceCaps, a middle of the road club through 38 games before going on a 26-8-1-3 tear in the second half, will vie for the American Hockey League championship.
Hope became reality at Mile One Centre Tuesday night as the IceCaps dusted off the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-0 to win the Eastern Conference final in six games.
It's only the second time in 17 years of American league hockey in this town a team has played for all the marbles. The last time that happened was all the back in 1991-92, the very first season of the Maple Leafs, who lost a memorable series to the Adirondack Red Wings, a final that saw the home team lose every game.
The IceCaps will face the Texas Stars, who took the Western Conference tiitle Monday night in Cedar Park, Tex., defeatiing the Toronto Marlies 6-2 in a Game 7 in Cedar Park, Tex.
The best-of-seven-Calder Cup final between the Stars and IceCaps begins with games Sunday and Monday in Cedar Park, the Stars having home-ice advantage. Games 3 , 4 and 5, the latter if necessary, are June 11, 16 and 17 at Mile One.
As has been the case through the playoffs, it was Michael Hutchinson coming up stellar in Tuesday's big game for the IceCaps, stopping all 34 pucks he faced for his third shutout of the playoffs and another first-star performance.
"Hands down the best goalie in hockey not named Quick and Lundqvist," said St. John's captain Jason Jaffray of Hutchinson, referring to Stanley Cup final goalies Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist.
"The guy's been an absolute stud. Good teams need great goalies. I've said it from the start, we've got one of the best, for sure."
The IceCaps got goals from five different players Tuesday night - Eric O'Dell, Adam Lowry, Blair Riley, Zach Redmond and Jaffray, who scored into an empty net to ice the Penguins.
Jerome Samson, inserted into the lineup for Will O'Neill, who served a one-game suspension for picking up a match penalty in Game 5, picked up two assists as did Brenden Kichton.
But for as much as Hutchinson was a storyline last night, so was the IceCaps' penalty killing units.
The Penguins failed to score on five power play opportunities Tuesday, making them zero-for-32 in the six games against St. John's.
"Our PK won us this series," Jaffray said. "You go a whole series without scoring a power goal, you don't have a good chance at winning."
The IceCaps penalty killers were put to work early, when Kael Mouillierat picked up four minutes for high sticking 4:42 after the opening faceoff.
Less than a minute after he exited the penalty box, Patrice Cormier was nabbed for high sticking.
"Those four forwards who killed the majority of the penalties (Kyle MacKinnon, John Albert, Lowry and Cormier) were just studs for us," Jaffray said.
"And those three or four D-men (Redmond, Ben Chiarot, Jordan Hill and Kris Fredheim), they seem to be second goalies out there. They were incredible.
"Those first six minutes, they were the turning point, for sure."
"Once we got through that," St. John's coach Keith McCambridge added, "you could feel some more life kick into our bench.
"But there were some uneasy moments when we were put on our heals. I thought the flip side was when the power play wasn't able to score, frustration set in on their side.
"It was nice to were able to get through that and build some momentum."
O'Dell gave St. John's an early lead for the 14th time in 16 playoffs games, tipping a Kichton shot past former IceCaps goalie Peter Mannino.
Lowry scored the only goal of the second period, redirecting a lovely cross-ice, heads-up pass from Josh Morrissey into the Penguins net.
Riley put the dagger through the Penguins' hearts, staking St. John's to a 3-0 lead only 2:23 into the third period.
Redmond and Jaffray added the insurance markers.
Penguins coach John Hynes pulled Mannino with nine minutes to go in the third period, but Hutchinson was there to preserve the shutout, coming up big, especially, on Andrew Ebbett and Zach Sill late in the game.