Brock Trotter scored a pair of breakaway goals – including the eventual game-winner early in the final frame – to lift the St. John’s IceCaps to a 3-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Tuesday night at Mile One Centre.
The victory gives the IceCaps a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Eddie Pasquale stopped 19 shots and Garth Murray scored his first goal of the postseason in the win. Penguins goaltender Brad Thiessen was spectacular, making 34 saves and keeping the visitors in the game.
Despite being outshot 20-4 in the first period, the Penguins left the ice sporting a 1-0 lead. On a Penguins power play 4:42 into the frame, Jason Williams’ shot attempt bounced right to Colin McDonald, who slid a pass to Cal O’Reilly at the side of the net. O’Reilly buried his fourth goal of the playoffs – all on the power play – to give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the game’s opening goal.
“We know we’re going to see a bigger push from that team tomorrow,” IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge said in a post-game scrum. “That’s just the way it is in back-to-back games. I thought our start was sharp. We didn’t get the lead that we wanted. But I’m positive they’re going to be strong tomorrow and we have to be the same.
“We can’t pat ourselves on the back. It’s one win. We’ve got to make sure we focus and come out tomorrow with a good performance.”
Jason King nearly brought down the house late in the first when he was awarded a penalty shot after being slashed on a clear-cut breakaway. With the home crowd roaring, King’s shot attempt was denied by Thiessen to preserve the one-goal lead.
The IceCaps tied it up at the 7:25 mark of the second period on Trotter’s first of two goals. Travis Ramsey flipped the puck up in the air in the neutral zone and Trotter raced through the Penguins’ defense, picking up the disc and heading in alone on Thiessen. Trotter went backhand to beat the Penguins’ goaltender and even the score at one.
An evenly-played second period resulted in a tie game heading into the third period, where Trotter would cash in on his second of the night. Paul Postma’s outlet pass through the middle was slowed down by a Penguins defender, allowing Trotter to pick up the puck and head in by himself once again. This time, Trotter went to the forehand to slide the puck past Thiessen and give the home side a 2-1 advantage.
“On the first one, Rammer floated it over everyone and I kind of got in behind their D,” Trotter said after the game. “I made a move and Mach was coming behind if there was a rebound. The second one, Postma made a really good play. I just came up through the middle and tried to catch their D. He made a great pass and I split them, just made a move.”
The line of Trotter, Spencer Machacek and Patrice Cormier accounted for the bulk of the scoring, and is a line the IceCaps will look to contribute offensively, especially as they grow their unit chemistry.
“I’m not the biggest guy on the ice, so I try to keep my feet moving. Corms is a big centreman who makes good plays, especially around the net, and Mach is guy who can shoot the puck or dish it just as well. We’re getting more confident with each other. It went well tonight.”
“He’s an intelligent player,” McCambridge said of Trotter. “He knows where pucks are going to be and his linemates are getting a better feel for where he is on the ice. Those were two very Brock Trotter-style goals.”
Pasquale stood tall in the IceCaps’ net down the stretch, making several key saves to hold the lead for his club. Perhaps his best stop of the night came on a two-on-one break for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton midway through the third period, when he slid across to his right to make a beautiful pad save.
“I thought they had some really high quality chances and (Pasquale) stepped in and made some big saves for us, just like he’s been doing all playoffs. It was a strong outing by him.”
The insurance marker came with just 1:54 to go in regulation when the puck was flipped into the Penguins’ zone by Raymond Sawada. Thiessen came out to play it but turned the puck over to John Albert, who skated towards the net with Garth Murray on a two-on-none break. Albert slid the puck to Murray, who tapped it home for a 3-1 advantage and the final nail in the coffin.
The IceCaps and Penguins resume their best-of-seven series Wednesday night at Mile One Centre (6:00 ET, AHL Live).