While the IceCaps never held a lead at any point during the game, they still came out on top in Game 4, winning their best-of-five series against the Syracuse Crunch.
Going into the third period down 3-2, a screening Ray Sawada bashed in a rebound on the powerplay, forcing overtime. I remarked to some friends in the stands during the intermission that, "I think the IceCaps are gonna win, but the goal is gonna be real ugly."
This writer couldn't have been more mistaken.
Five minutes into overtime, with a crowd filling the crease in front of Syracuse goaltender Iiro Tarkki, Brock Trotter fed a pass to series-standout defenseman Derek Meech for the one-timer. Meech got all of it - and the puck entered the net untouched on the short-side, in what was the most important goal in IceCaps history, thus-far.
It was fitting that a defenseman clinched the series, as the success story of the IceCaps over this four-game stretch was one of defensive-strategy.
The Crunch were a team whose success was built on the scoring prowess of a handful of players, particularly the top line of Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon and the injured Peter Holland. Conversely, the IceCaps take a committee approach to scoring, as evidenced by the second-seeded playoff team not having a scorer in the AHL's regular season top-50.
These varying approaches to team-scoring gave an advantage to the IceCaps, as their coaching staff was able to isolate and eliminate the Crunch's scoring threats with their best checking units. Palmieri was held to one goal and one assist in four games, while Maroon was held scoreless altogether. Both players finished the series with a -4 rating.
IceCap defensemen Arturs Kulda, Brett Festerling and Meech logged huge minutes against the Crunch's top scorers, along with excellent defensive-contributions from St. John's forwards like Aaron Gagnon and the energy line of Garth Murray, John Albert and Ray Sawada.
With the top-scorers contained on the Syracuse side, St. John's flexed it's scoring depth to take the series in four games, as indicated by the 12 IceCaps with 2 or more points in the quarterfinal, compared to only 8 for the Crunch.
This series should prove to be a confidence-builder and a unifying-ordeal for a team that's brought in new faces all year, up to and including forward Mark Scheifele joining the squad halfway through the series. In taking out an offensive powerhouse like Syracuse in the first round, the St. John's IceCaps proved they can hang with the top teams in the conference, and are in good shape to make a deep run this postseason.