(stjohnsicecaps.com) — Aided by a boisterous crowd clad in white, the St. John’s IceCaps scored a resounding 5-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch Wednesday night, in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
The IceCaps take a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 Friday night at Mile One Centre (6:00 ET, AHL Live).
Eddie Pasquale made 40 saves for the home side while Derek Meech notched his second multi-point game of the series, scoring the eventual game-winning goal late in the first period. Arturs Kulda chipped in with a pair of assists.
The defensive pairing of Kulda and Brett Festerling was largely responsible for stifling the Crunch’s top offensive threats for much of the night. Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon managed a combined seven shots but were held off the score sheet otherwise, each finishing with a minus-1 rating.
While the win puts the IceCaps one win from advancing to the next round, head coach Keith McCambridge said the club is still not where it needs to be.
“I liked the speed of that game,” coach McCambridge said following the contest. “I thought Syracuse was really good also. I thought our goalie played really well. Pasquale made some really key saves. I liked the pace of the game and the speed. There were some positive things out of the game, but there were also some areas we need to clean up.”
After showing a few nerves early in the contest, the IceCaps settled down and controlled the flow of the game. The line of John Albert, Garth Murray and Raymond Sawada was effective all night long, energizing the team with its tenacity on the forecheck and solid two-way play.
“They were really good,” McCambridge said. “I thought they were a factor in the game. They provided energy. I thought you need that out of that line, that energy, that physicality. Ray Sawada is a big body. Playoffs is a big reason why we made that trade. He’s physical, can skate well and has playoff experience.”
St. John’s fired the opening salvo at 11:10 of the first on a two-man advantage after penalties to Mat Clark for roughing and the Crunch for too many men on the ice. A one-timer in front was shot wide of the net and Jason King chopped it out front to a wide open Patrice Cormier, who buried the puck into the open cage for a 1-0 advantage.
Dan Sexton tied it just minutes later after a giveaway by Jason DeSantis in the neutral zone. DeSantis attempted a blind backhand pass through the middle from the boards by the IceCaps bench but Sexton was there to pounce on the errant feed. The speedy forward raced in over the blue line and snapped a shot past Pasquale for an unassisted goal to make it 1-1.
The IceCaps retook the lead at the 17:21 mark on Meech’s second of the series, also an unassisted marker. The veteran defenceman picked up the puck near the left point and made a move towards the middle of the ice, shovelling a backhand that beat Crunch goaltender Iiro Tarkki through a screen. St. John’s took a 2-1 lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes.
In the second, Brock Trotter scored his first goal as an IceCap at the 7:54 mark on another St. John’s power play. Spencer Machacek’s attempt from the high slot took a bounce in front and the redirection caught Tarkki out of position. Trotter was able to smack the loose puck past the Finnish netminder for a 3-1 lead.
Albert added to the lead early in the third on a pretty play. Kulda chipped the puck to Sawada on the left wing. The big winger then raced in on a two-on-one with Albert. The rookie forward took Sawada’s pass on the backhand behind the defender and deked to the forehand, sliding the puck five-hole underneath Tarkki to make it 4-1.
Ben Maxwell added a goal with less than four minutes to play to officially put the nail in the coffin. After a scrum by the benches involving several players from both teams, Kulda gained the offensive zone and dropped a pass to Maxwell, who cut to the middle and fired a shot that beat Tarkki low on the blocker side.
The IceCaps now have a chance to advance to the second round with a win in Game 4 Friday night at Mile One. Game 5 would take place Saturday, if necessary.