The Columbus Cottonmouths and goaltender Andrew Loewen extended impressive streaks with the Snakes’ 4-0 shutout of visiting Bloomington at the Columbus Civic Center on Saturday night.
The prize earned was a spot in the upcoming Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs.
The Snakes won their sixth straight game and eighth of their last nine. Loewen posted his sixth straight win and third consecutive shutout. His scoreless streak dates back to the Snakes’ contest with the Mississippi Surge on Feb. 27. Lucas LaBelle’s goal at the 8:53 mark of the third period was the last to cross the goal line against Loewen. He has since blanked Fayetteville and Bloomington twice. All three shutouts have come at home. His scoreless streak stands at 191:07.
The Thunder had several quality scoring chances including a two-on-zero where Loewen had two Bloomington players streaking toward the net and no help defensively. He also had one puck come precariously close to the line when it became trapped in his pads and skate. Loewen ended up stopping all 27 shots he faced.
“We actually do two-on-zero drills,” Loewen said. “This was a tough game. We went up early and really had our emotions going. It was kind of a disjointed game. When you go up 4-0, it’s hard to be mentally focused. But we did and protected each other.”
Veteran Tom Maldonado and his fellow defensemen supported Loewen during his long scoreless streak.
“We all want to make sure the shutout happens,” Maldonado said. “It’s a great feeling, not just for the goalie and defensemen, but for the forwards as well. A shutout is a team effort.”
Loewen benefitted from an early lead as the Snakes went up 3-0 after the first period. Neilsson Arcibal and Preston Shupe continued their hot hand. Arcibal scored the first goal unassisted at the 2:32 mark of the first. Arcibal and Steve Mele assisted on Shupe’s power play goal at the 13:06 mark of the opening period. Arcibal and Shupe have combined for 29 points in the last 10 games, 13 goals and 16 assists.
“It was good to get balance and get everybody involved,” Shupe said. “The line of Alex Gallant, Will Aide, Seth Ronsberg and Dan Bremner had a fantastic night. They gave us an edge out there.”
Arcibal caused the 3385 in attendance to hold their collective breath when he became entangled with a Bloomington player and was slow to get up. Arcibal had to be helped off the ice, but the injury is not thought to be serious.
Maldonado scored the game’s most dramatic goal with just 48 seconds remaining in the first period and the Snakes on the penalty kill.
“It was a fluke,” Maldonado said. “Levi (Lind) broke his stick and was trying to get off the ice. They turned it over and I just went for it.”
Maldonado’s breakaway gave the Snakes the cushion they needed and a 3-0 lead.
Aide had two assists, contributing on Maldonado’s shorthanded goal and the final goal of the evening by Bremner.
“We struggled early trying to find our identity,” Aide said. “Everybody’s playing their roles now. It’s going to be a good run. Clinching a playoff spot is great, but we’re ready for the next step.”
The Snakes have six games remaining in the regular season, three on the road and three at home. They are currently in seventh place with 53 points. The Cottonmouths are chasing at least the fourth spot, which would give them home ice advantage in the opening round.
First-place Pensacola (71) has opened up an eight-point lead on second-place Louisiana (63). Huntsville (60) is in third place and the Mississippi RiverKings and Peoria (58) are tied for fourth place. Knoxville (55) is just ahead of the Snakes.
The only playoff berth up for grabs is the eighth and final slot. The Mississippi Surge are in eighth place with 47 points, eight ahead of Fayetteville. Bloomington (38) is in last place.
The Snakes travel to Southaven to take on the RiverKings on Tuesday night. They return home for three games next weekend, on Thursday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
Bloomington 0 0 0 --0
Columbus 3 1 0 --4 First period—1, Columbus, Arcibal (unassisted) 2:32; 2, Columbus, Shupe (Mele, Arcibal) 13:06 PPG; 3—Columbus, Maldonado (Aide, Bowles) 19:12 SHG.
Penalties—Cintala, Bloomington (tripping) 5:12; Aide, Columbus (roughing)12:18; Gallant, Columbus (fighting, second altercation, game misconduct) 12:18; Mahesh, Bloomington (fighting, second altercation, game misconduct) 12:18; Granbois, Bloomington (slashing, interference) 12:18; Johnson, Columbus (interference) 17:56.
Second period—4, Columbus, Bremner (Ronsberg, Aide) 1:01. Penalties—Bowles, Columbus (slashing) 1:58; Lind, Columbus (tripping) 7:38; Draper, Columbus (slashing) 8:12; Megginson, Bloomington (slashing) 10:12; MacLeod, Bloomington (hooking) 12:44; Gingera, Columbus (unsportsmanlike conduct) 18:43; Cole, Bloomington (cross-checking) 18:43.
Third period—None. Penalties—Gingera, Columbus (hooking) 3:45; Noseworthy, Bloomington (slashing) 6:29; DAgostino, Bloomington (tripping) 11:00; Willigar, Columbus (roughing) 18:44; Olczyk, Bloomington (roughing) 18:44.
Shots on goal: Bloomington 7 8 12 --27
Columbus 13 11 7 --31
Power plays: Bloomington 0 of 5; Columbus 1 of 6.
Goaltenders: Loewen (win) 60:00 27 27 0; O’Brien 60:00 31 27 4.
Referee: Anderson. Linesmen: Dioughy, Winkler.