May 1, 2012 - American Hockey League (AHL) - St. John's IceCaps
The St. John's IceCaps hope to ride the momentum of home ice to an opening game victory in the club's first Round 2 playoff game tonight at Mile One Centre.
The IceCaps face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, after disposing of the Syracuse Crunch in four games. Derek Meech's shot form the right point found the net 5:01 into the extra frame Friday to give the IceCaps a 4-3 win over Syracuse, to claim the series 3-1. That goal came in front of a white-clad group of spectators as the team continues its Whiteout theme.
The Penguins arrive in St. John's having won a hard-fought, five-game series against the Hershey Bears. The club won the fifth and deciding game on home ice with a tight 2-1 victory. Goaltender Brad Thiessen stopped 18-of-19 shots while Zach Sill's second period marker held up as the game-winner.
The IceCaps have been led so far by a group of veterans familiar with the playoff grind. Meech and forward Aaron Gagnon lead the club with five points each while defencemen Arturs Kulda and Brett Festerling have efficiently served as the team's shutdown pairing.
Perhaps the IceCaps most effective line - especially in the two games at Mile One Centre - has been the combo of John Albert, Garth Murray and Ray Sawada. Meant to be a checking unit for coach Keith McCambridge, the line has also chipped in with some much-needed offence. Albert has scored in two straight games while Sawada has notched three points (1G, 2A) in four games.
Sawada will be a player to watch in this series. The power forward was not a member of the IceCaps back in January when the club lost a pair of home games to the Penguins, but was present for two wins at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in March. Sawada recorded three points in those two games and was named the Hardest Working Player in the team's March 24 win.
St. John's will have to contend with a Penguins power play that is operating at a high efficiency heading into the series. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 7/29 (24.1%) with the man advantage so far in the postseason, significantly better than their 18.8% rate from the regular season. Forward Cal O'Reilly's three power play goals lead all players during the playoffs. The St. John's penalty kill has been near flawless, however; the club has killed off 13-of-15 times shorthanded.
The IceCaps finished the season series with a 2-1-1-0 mark versus the Penguins, winning each of the last two matchups and outscoring the opposition 7-2. Goaltender Eddie Pasquale is 2-1-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average in three starts against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On the flip side, expected starter Brad Thiessen started just once against the IceCaps, winning 6-4 at Mile One Centre on January 14.
Catch all the action with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930AM 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).