IceCaps dig deep for Game 7 victory
St. John’s advances to East finals with 3-2 win
By Chris Doyle
The St. John’s IceCaps hung on for a 3-2 victory in Game 7 Saturday night at Mile One Centre to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins four games to three.
Aaron Gagnon scored twice, including the game-winner early in the third period, to give the IceCaps their second series victory on home ice in the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs. Eddie Pasquale picked up his seventh win, stopping 26 shots in yet another outstanding performance.
“It’s nice to finish them off at home and nice to look forward to the next round,” said head coach Keith McCambridge. “
The IceCaps received a solid effort across the board, controlling the play for much of the game and generating a plethora of scoring chances. The score could have been much different; St. John’s hit several posts throughout the night and was swarming the net all game long.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in here who’ve been around and know how to handle those situations,” Gagnon said. “We didn’t panic. We didn’t change our game. We just got better.
“Both teams battled – you gotta give it to them, they’re a very good squad – they really made us work for it.”
After a less-than-stellar effort in Game 6 Friday, St. John’s stormed out of the gates in front of a raucous crowd that got things going before the national anthems were sung. The energetic assemblage was involved the whole night supporting their team, and their efforts did not go unnoticed.
“It was great to win it in front of our fans,” assistant captain Jason King said. “They’ve been fantastic all year. They really got us going. The energy was great. We can’t wait to get back here and get it going in the third round.”
“”They’re loud,” McCambridge said of the 6,287 faithful who fill the building every night. “The atmosphere in here, you could feel the electricity in the building. The guys feed off it.”
Ray Sawada got the IceCaps on the board first when he was the recipient of a nice pass from John Albert and converted for his third goal of the playoffs. Albert beat his man wide coming in off the left side and fed a pass right on the tape of Sawada, who one-timed the puck past Brad Thiessen to make it 1-0 St. John’s.
With a 1-0 advantage heading into the second period, Ryan Craig tied it up for the Penguins when he beat Pasquale low on the blocker side on a clear-cut breakaway. Eric Tangradi flipped a backhand pass to the streaking Craig, who went in alone from centre ice and made no mistake to knot the game at one at the 6:43 mark.
The IceCaps regained the lead at 11:35 of the frame on Gagnon’s first of two goals. On a St. John’s power play, the B.C. native waltzed towards the net from the corner and banked a shot off Thiessen to put the home side up 2-1.
In the third, Gagnon’s second of the night 53 seconds into the frame gave the IceCaps a two-goal advantage. Gagnon picked up a loose puck behind the Penguins net and drifted out to the top of the circle, firing a wrist shot that fooled Thiessen for a 3-1 IceCaps lead.
The Penguins pressed hard for much of the period and were rewarded at the 9:36 mark on a power play when Patrice Cormier was called for boarding after riding Ben Street into the boards in front of the IceCaps bench. Jason Williams slid a cross-ice pass from the point to Tangradi at the side of the net, who attempted a pass out front to Colin McDonald. The pass was partially deflected, but had enough juice to get to McDonald, who roofed a shot on Pasquale to cut the deficit to 3-2.
However, with a deafening crowd standing on their feet, the IceCaps were able to shut the door in the closing minutes and skate away with the series victory.
“I thought we did a really good job limiting turnovers,” McCambridge said. “I thought we did a really good job getting pucks deep, at key moments of the game when they started getting momentum.”
St. John’s now moves on to face the top-seeded Norfolk Admirals in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning Thursday, May 17 at Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA. Game 2 of the series goes next Saturday, May 19, after which the teams come back to St. John’s for Games 3 and 4 May 21 and 22, respectively. Game 5, if necessary, is scheduled for Saturday, May 26.
Tickets for all Round 3 playoff games go on sale Sunday, May 13 at 12 noon at the Mile One Centre box office and online at www.stjohnsicecaps.com.
Catch all the IceCaps’ playoff action with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on the radio at 930AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador. Fans can watch all home games on Rogers TV and all playoff games streaming live online at www.ahllive.com.
Photos (Jeff Parsons)