Of all the sterling qualities St. John’s IceCaps goaltender Michael Hutchinson has displayed this season, maybe the most impressive has been his ability to bounce back from losses and mediocre showings.
That was never more evident than on Monday night in Cedar Park, Tex., where Hutchinson made 49 saves as the IceCaps edged the Texas Stars 2-1, tying their American Hockey League Calder Cup final at a game apiece.
Statistically, it equalled Hutchinson’s best-ever performance as a pro — he also allowed just one goal on 50 shots in a February win over the Worcester Sharks — but in reality, given the circumstances, this had to be the game of his career for the 23-year-old.
With the best-of-seven matchup headed back to St. John’s for the next three games, starting Wednesday night at Mile One Centre, the IceCaps now own home-ice advantage in the series. And for that, they can thank Hutchinson and his resilient nature.
On Sunday, Hutchinson had given up five goals on just 22 shots — including three goals on four shots in the second period — as Texas won the series opener 6-3. It was his poorest start in 17 playoff games this spring, but St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge refused to blame Hutchinson, instead citing overall shoddy team defence for the result.
It may have been that McCambridge was looking to maintain his netminder’s confidence, but it’s likely the coach knew better than that. Because, as an IceCap, Hutchinson has made a habit of turning in a great effort after a so-so one.
On seven occasions during the 2013-14 AHL season — including twice in these playoffs — Hutchinson has allowed four or more goals in a game. In the follow-up starts to each of those contests, he not only produced wins for the IceCaps, but proved remarkably stingy in doing so.
Listed chronologically, here are the number of goals he allowed in those next games: two, one, one, none, one, none, one.
To be honest, you might feel the need to ignore one of the seven instances. Hutchinson gave up six goals in a loss to the Portland Pirates in mid-March and posted a shutout in his next game for St. John’s, but that was a month later, after a stint with the parent Winnipeg Jets. But even then, his overall goals-against-average in the other six rebound contests has been 1.00, with a .953 save percentage.
What’s more, he’s lost six of 18 starts in the playoffs and has posted a win after each of those defeats, twice on shutouts, with a collective 0.83 GAA and .975 save percentage (204 shots/199 saves).
Monday’s game was the topper to that impressive record. The 49 saves were the most in a Calder Cup final series game in more than a decade, dating back to 2003, when Ty Conklin (83 saves) of the Hamilton Bulldogs and Johan Holmqvist (79 saves) of the Houston Aeros met in a 2003 four-overtime classic, the longest in league history, won 2-1 by Hamilton.
There was no overtime Monday because of Hutchinson, whose best work came in the third period when he stopped all 20 shots he faced. The Stars, who led the AHL with 274 goals in the regular season, were continuously thwarted by the IceCaps netminder, whose most spectacular saves came just over a minute apart in the final frame the first one on Kevin Henderson after giving up a rebound, and the other, a superb, diving blocker stop on Brendan Ranford’s wraparound attempt.
That allowed goals by Kael Mouillierat — on St. John’s first scoring chance of the game — and Blair Riley early the second period to prove enough for a crucial victory.
A goal by Ranford 29 seconds into the middle period had brought Texas even with St. John’s, but the tie score lasted one shift as Riley got his second of the playoffs 44 seconds later.
The game didn’t feature much scoring and just as little in the way of penalties. The IceCaps got a power-play late midway through the second on a holding penalty to Jyrki Jokipakka and there were coincidental roughing minors to defencemen Jordan Hill of St. John’s and Jamie Oleksiak late in the same period. Other than that, the penalty boxes were unoccupied except for the attendants. It marked the first time this season — through 76 regular-season games and 18 more in the playoffs — that St. John’s didn’t have to kill a penalty.
Texas goalie Cristopher Nilstorp made 33 saves in a second-star performance that would have been good enough to produce a win for his team on most any night. But the way Hutchinson was playing at the other end Monday, this was not just any night.
The IceCaps and Stars share a charter flight from Austin to St. John's today, travelling a distance of nearly 4,300 kilometres ...Monday marked the 15th time in 18 playoff games that the IceCaps have scored the game’s opening goal. They have won on 12 of those occasions … St. John’s is now 10-1 in these playoffs when leading after two periods …Defenceman Zach Redmond led all IceCaps in ice time Monday and was plus-two in the game, improving his rating to plus-10, best on the team … St. John’s used the same 20 players it did Monday, but there was one notable adjustment by head coach Keith McCambridge. That saw Carl Klingberg rejoin a line with Eric O’Dell and Kael Mouillierat, while Josh Lunden took Klingberg’s former spot with Adam Lowry and Jerome Samson … The Molson Canadian three stars Monday: 1. Michael Hutchinson, SJs; 2. Cristopher Nilstorp, Tex.; 3. Blair Riley, SJs … The Mary Brown’s hardest-working IceCaps: Jason Jaffray …
IceCaps 2, Stars 1
Monday, at Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, Tex.
1. St. John's, Mouillierat 5 (O'Dell, Redmond), 4:05
Penalties — None
2. Texas, Ranford 8 (Morin), 0:29
3. St. John's, Riley 2 (MacKinnon, Cormier), 1:13
Penalties — Jokipakka Tex (holding), 12:00; Hill SJs (roughing), 19:47; Oleksiak Tex (roughing), 19:47
Penalties — None
Shots on goal: St. John's 9-18-8-35; Texas 16-14-20-50
Power-play goals/chances: St. John's 0/1; Texas 0/0
Goaltenders: St. John's, Hutchinson 12-6-0 (50 shots/49 saves); Texas, Nilstorp 10-5-0 (35/33)
Referees: Dave Lewis, Terry Koharski
Linesmen: Trent Knorr, Randy Sappo
Attendance: 5,224 (6,863)