The #4 St. John’s Ice Caps kicked off the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs over the weekend, taking on the fifth-ranked Albany Devils. The two teams had much to catch up on, after a full year since their last meeting in March of 2013. At the end of two hard-fought games, the series shifts to Newfoundland tied at 1 game apiece.
St. John’s and Albany started the series on Friday night at the Times Union Center, in front of a crowd of 6,572. The Caps got on the board early, with John Albert in the penalty box, frequent Jets’ call-up Eric O’Dell scored the first goal of the series shorthanded, less than five minutes into the game. The Caps nearly added to their total after the Devils took two straight penalties, but Albany goaltender Keith Kinkaid kept his squad in the game.
The next goal wouldn’t come until early in the second period, when Albany’s regular-season leading scorer Joe Whitney evened the score early in the frame on the power-play. With the second period and much of the third going by without either team backing off, it seemed that the game was destined for overtime. With just 26 seconds left in regulation, Ben Chiarot became the hero, scoring to give the Ice Caps a 2-1 lead that they held for the final seconds, winning Game One.
Kinkaid made 30 saves in the loss, while Michael Hutchinson earned the win with a 25-save effort, earning the game’s Second Star honor. Chiarot’s late-game heroics were enough to make him the First Star. No Ice Caps left the ice with a minus rating, while Whitney of the Devils was a -2, despite scoring a goal.
The two teams were back at it the next night, in front of an even larger crowd of over 8,000. The Ice Caps would be the first team on the board once again, with Brenden Kitchon scoring just over 10 minutes into the first period. Their lead lasted exactly 59 seconds, as Albany forward Reid Boucher knotted the score. The Devils took their first lead of the series just five minutes later, when Stefan Matteau fired a power-play marker past Hutchinson for the 2-1 lead, on the Ice Caps’ third straight penalty of the game.
Kitchon was the one scoring the early second-period marker, 5:11 in, but the tied score was as close as St. John’s would come. Mattias Tendenby would give the Devils the lead just three minutes later, and Scott Timmins extended the margin with another power-play goal half-way through the third period. The Devils would hold off a late push by the Caps, and tie the series with a Game Two win.
Kinkaid made his second straight 30-save performance, this time ending with a win. Hutchinson equaled that total of 30 saves in the losing effort. Kitchon was the game’s Third Star.
The story of the first two games was the Devil’s power-play, which scored four of their five goals. The Ice Caps gave Albany plenty of chances on the man-advantage, taking an uncharacteristic 11 minor penalties through the two games.
Kinkaid has a slight edge in-goal versus Hutchinson, making 60 saves to Hutchinson’s 55, and both the Devils’ stay-at-home defense and the Ice Caps’ offensive blue-line have shone through in this series.
There isn’t much to differentiate between the two teams so far, although the Ice Caps stole a win in the Devils’ own rink, where they were 24-9-5 this season. The series heads north to St. John’s now, where the Ice Caps posted a 23-10-5 record, and will host games Three and Four, as well as Game Five, if necessary.
Game Three goes on Wednesday night at 7:30 Newfoundland Time, which is 5:00 PM Central Time. You can watch the action using AHL Live.
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