Don’t look now, but the St. John’s IceCaps are starting to climb the ladder towards a playoff position once again. After a rocky start to the year, the team really appears to be gaining its stride, and a pair of wins over the Hartford WolfPack leave them just four points away from the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 25 games to go.
The first of the two games was played on Tuesday night. St. John’s wasted no time getting ahead in this one, as Blair Riley potted his third goal of the season just seven minutes in. While it looked like Hartford had an opportunity to equalize a few minutes later, Keaton Ellerby scored a shorthanded goal to widen the gap.
From that point on, the game was largely played in neutral ice; the two teams only combined for 44 shots on goal. With seventeen seconds to go, Kyle MacKinnon added an empty netter. Connor Hellebuyck ended up with his second shutout in as many games.
Yesterday’s matchup was a little bit more eventful, after Brenden Kichton opened the scoring, Hartford took control, scoring two goals in thirty seconds. By the midway point of the third period, the WolfPack had taken a 4-2 lead, but the IceCaps weren’t ready to quit just yet. Scott Kosmachuk converted on one of St. John’s seven powerplay opportunities, and with four and a half minutes to go, Blair Riley completed his book-ending of the series’ regulation goals to tie the game.
Nobody played the role of overtime hero, so this game ended up going to a shootout. MacKinnon and JC Lipon converted on their opportunities while Hellebuyck stopped two of his three opponents, which ensured the victory.
I have to go with Blair Riley this time. Riley had come into these games with just two goals in forty three games, so to get the game winning goal on Tuesday and game tying goal on Wednesday is a spectacular turn of events.
- Connor Hellebuyck finished the pair of games with 56 saves on 60 shots, which is a pretty solid result. I’m sure he’d like to have a couple of yesterday’s goals back, but he played well enough to get them the victory despite the below-average showing.
- JC Lipon lead the team in shots over the pair of games, taking three on Tuesday and five on Wednesday. He was the leader or tied for it in both games, which makes it all the more hilarious that his only goal came in the shootout.
- Other players with multiple points over the span include John Albert (1G 2A), Kyle MacKinnon (1G 4A), and Will O’Neill (0G 3A).
- The IceCaps may be four points back of that last spot, but it’s worth nothing that other teams have multiple games in hand – St. John’s leads the AHL in games played where as some of their opponents have played four or five games fewer.
- St. John’s returns to the ice on Saturday when they take on the Worcester Sharks. Worcester is four points ahead of the IceCaps, so this is game with big standings implications.
Photo courtesy of stjohnsicecaps.com