One shift helped save the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ season.
Wilkes-Barre scored three times in the final 7:30 of the third period and staved off elimination with a 4-2 win over the St. John’s IceCaps in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Saturday night.
The IceCaps still lead the series, three games to two, and will host Game 6 on Tuesday and Game 7, if necessary, on Wednesday.
The Penguins were down 2-1 and had managed just one shot over the first half of the third period, but an 86-second shift spent entirely in the offensive zone resulted in the tying goal and re-energized the Wilkes-Barre squad and its fans. Zach Sill would later pot the game-winner with just 15.8 seconds remaining, sending the Penguins to a dramatic victory.
For the second game in a row, St. John’s defenseman Will O’Neill opened the scoring, and for the second game in a row it came on a 5-on-3 IceCaps power play. St. John’s applied sustained pressure for more than a minute before O’Neill wristed a shot from the high slot through traffic and past Penguins netminder Peter Mannino for a 1-0 lead.
Former IceCaps forward Spencer Machacek tied things up for Wilkes-Barre at 1-1 off an odd-man rush with 3:49 gone in the second period, wristing a shot past Michael Hutchinson from the right-wing circle for his first goal of the postseason.
St. John’s regained the lead with another power-play goal at 14:05 of the second, as Patrice Cormier got a stick on a wrister from the blue line by O’Neill and deflected it home to put the IceCaps up 2-1. It marked the third game in a row in which St. John’s scored two power-play markers.
The equalizer came at 12:30 of the third period. An offensive-zone draw following an IceCaps icing infraction — and a St. John’s timeout — sparked a remarkable shift on which the Penguins’ fivesome of Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett, Brian Gibbons, Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres spent one minute and 26 seconds in the IceCaps end.
Dumoulin eventually kept a clearing attempt in at the right point and passed it to Despres, who one-touched a pass over to Kobasew at the right half-boards. Kobasew faked a shot and passed cross-ice to Ebbett, whose return feed to Kobasew was banged in to make it 2-2.
Sill’s game-winner at 19:44 came off a nifty no-look pass from Harry Zolnierczyk at the side of the net. After Tom Kostopoulos worked the corners to get the puck to Zolnierczyk, Sill’s shot from in close hit the far post beyond a sprawling Hutchinson, ricocheted back out and hit the back of the goaltender’s glove before trickling over the goal line.
Kobasew wrapped it up with an empty-net goal at 19:53 to send the series back to St. John’s.
Kobasew (2g) and Ebbett (2a), both returning to the Penguins lineup from injury, had two points apiece, as did Despres (2a). Mannino (9-7) finished with 19 saves.
Hutchinson (10-5) stopped 30 of 33 shots in the loss for St. John’s.
The IceCaps finished 2-for-6 on the power play and are now 6-for-20 in the last three games (30.0 percent) after starting the series 0-for-8. However, St. John’s has also gone 140:01 without an even-strength goal.
The Penguins went 0-for-7 with the man advantage and are now 0-for-27 in the series and 0-for-their-last-30 overall.
Wilkes-Barre improved to 23-12 (.657) all-time when facing postseason elimination, including a 15-4 mark at home. St. John’s is now 4-4 all-time with a chance to close out a series, 0-3 on the road.
Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
4-St. John’s IceCaps vs. 6-W-B/Scranton Penguins | Series Snapshot
Game 1 – Sat., May 24 – W-B/Scranton 3, ST. JOHN’S 2
Game 2 – Sun., May 25 – ST. JOHN’S 2, W-B/Scranton 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 28 – St. John’s 5, W-B/SCRANTON 0
Game 4 – Thu., May 29 – St. John’s 2, W-B/SCRANTON 1
Game 5 – Sat., May 31 – W-B/SCRANTON 4, St. John’s 2
Game 6 – Tue., June 3 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 4 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern