Aaron Gagnon scored twice, Raymond Sawada had a goal and an assist and Eddie Pasquale made 26 saves as the St. John’s IceCaps advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-2 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 7 at Mile One Centre on Saturday night.
Gagnon and Sawada, teammates on the Texas Stars team that reached the Calder Cup Finals in their inaugural season in 2010, have helped the first-year IceCaps move to within four wins of the AHL’s championship series. St. John’s will meet Norfolk beginning Thursday for the right to play for the Calder Cup.
Trying to avoid a collapse after being up 3-1 in the series, St. John’s opened the game firing on all cylinders and enjoying the majority of offensive chances.
The IceCaps broke through at 11:52 when John Albert worked by the defense on the far boards of the Penguins zone and centered a pass that Sawada fired into the net for a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins were able to even the match at 6:43 of the second when Eric Tangradi sent an outlet pass from just inside his own blueline to spring Ryan Craig on a breakaway. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain fired a wrist shot from the hashmarks that sailed past the stick side of Pasquale.
With the score still tied at 1-1, St. John’s was able to retake its one-goal edge at 11:35 with the help of the power play. Gagnon pulled out of the near corner with the puck and slid a pass toward the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton crease that kicked off a skate and through the pads of netminder Brad Thiessen.
Fifty-seven seconds into the third frame, Gagnon provided the eventual game-winner when he cut out from behind the Penguins’ net and dumped in a shot from left circle that slipped inside the far post.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton cut St. John’s lead in half midway through the same period after the team hopped on a 5-on-4 advantage. Colin McDonald was able to settle down a deflected pass from Tangradi and rip a shot to the top shelf to make the score 3-2.
The Penguins would have their opportunities to send the game past regulation, but Pasquale shut the door and preserved the win.
Thiessen turned aside 24 of 27 shots, including three breakaway chances for St. John’s.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “J” (best-of-7)
2-St. John’s IceCaps vs. 4-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Tue., May 1 – ST. JOHN’S 3, W-B/Scranton 1
Game 2 – Wed., May 2 – W-B/Scranton 3, ST. JOHN’S 1
Game 3 – Sat., May 5 – St. John’s 2, W-B/SCRANTON 1 (OT)
Game 4 – Sun., May 6 – St. John’s 3, W-B/SCRANTON 2 (OT)
Game 5 – Tue., May 8 – W-B/SCRANTON 3, St. John’s 2 (2OT)
Game 6 – Fri., May 11 – W-B/Scranton 4, ST. JOHN’S 2
Game 7 – Sat., May 12 – ST. JOHN’S 3, W-B/Scranton 2