IceCaps thrill in overtime victory
By Chris Doyle
It hasn’t taken long for Derek Meech to warm himself to the IceCaps faithful.
Meech scored the game- and series-clinching goal at 5:01 of overtime to propel the St. John’s IceCaps to a 4-3 triumph over the Syracuse Crunch in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, giving the club a 3-1 series victory.
After a rough first period, the IceCaps settled down in the second and tied the game early in period three on a goal by Ray Sawada, setting the stage for Meech’s heroics in overtime. Sawada finished with a goal and an assist, earning the game’s third star, while Eddie Pasquale made 27 saves in the win. John Albert and Carl Klingberg also scored for St. John’s.
“It felt great,” Meech said of his goal. “It was just a matter of getting a good shot on net. Corms (Patrice Cormier) set a great screen in front and it made it a lot easier for me.
“We have a ton of character in that room and obviously we showed it tonight. At no point tonight did we panic.”
Head coach Keith McCambridge said getting the first round victory will go a long way towards helping the club gel. With the number of players returning from injury or just beginning to play with the club, following trades and injuries, McCambridge feels his team is still getting to know one another. Advancing will certainly help this cause.
“The main thing as a coaching staff was we wanted to get through this first round,” McCambridge said following the game. “A first round win really galvanizes the group. You can see them getting closer. You can see them starting to build that playoff excitement.”
Syracuse got on the board early on a strange goal by Mark Bell at 5:12 of the opening stanza. Bell gained the IceCaps zone and wristed a harmless-looking shot towards the net that handcuffed Pasquale, beating the rookie netminder on the blocker side to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Just 36 seconds later, Emerson Etem notched his first career playoff goal when he one-timed a Nick Schaus pass in the high slot for a quick 2-0 Crunch lead, forcing coach Keith McCambridge to call a timeout to rally the troops.
St. John’s got some help from the hockey gods late in the first when, after a turnover in the defensive zone, a Crunch shot redirected off the goal post and stayed out, leaving the IceCaps down just 2-0 after 20 minutes.
McCambridge’s message in the dressing room clearly had an impact in the second, as his team stormed out of the gates to score two quick goals in the first 4:20 of the frame.
Carl Klingberg snapped a 20–game goalless drought when he potted his first of the playoffs at the 2:49 mark. Mark Scheifele, playing in just his second AHL hockey game, fed Klingberg with a perfect pass from the top of the circle. The rookie Swede took the pass coming out from the corner and outwaited Crunch goalie Iiro Tarkki, sliding a forehand shot into the back of the net to narrow the gap to 2-1.
Then, just 1:31 later, Albert struck for the second time in as many games on a well-placed wrist shot from the top of the right circle after taking a drop pass from Sawada and cutting towards the middle of the ice.
The score remained tied until Etem gave Syracuse the lead once again with his second of the night on a pretty deflection after Mat Clark fired a shot from the side boards. Syracuse escaped the second period up 3-2 despite being outshot 12-6 in the frame.
In the third, a motivated IceCaps squad got the tying goal on Sawada’s first of the series. After Crunch captain Nate Guenin took a minor penalty for slashing, St. John’s cashed in on the ensuing power play when Jason DeSantis wired a shot on goal that rebounded right to Sawada, who swept in the tying goal. The teams traded chances in the period but overtime was necessary to decide the outcome.
In the extra frame, Brock Trotter made a cross-ice pass for Meech near the side boards on the right, and the veteran defenceman blasted a slap shot that beat Tarkki cleanly, sending the emotionally-invested capacity crowd into a frenzy as the IceCaps spilled onto the ice in celebration.
“Those are guys we need to have in our lineup,” McCambridge said of Sawada and Trotter. “Guys who are coming back from injury. We’re finding what everybody’s role is. As we moved on, we got better and better.”
The IceCaps will now await their second round opponent. The Hershey Bears defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4-1 Friday to even their series at two, with Game 5 set for Saturday night. St. John’s will play the winner.
Game 1 of the IceCaps Eastern Conference Semifinal series is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1 while Game 2 goes Wednesday, May 2, both at Mile One Centre.
Catch all the action with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930 AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador. Pregame show begins at 7:00 p.m. with the drop of the puck set for 7:30 (all times Newfoundland).
Photos (Jeff Parsons)