As Butch Cassidy said to the Sundance Kid:
Who are those guys?
I kept saying that to myself, over and over, through the Snakes' total domination of the Rivermen at the Snake Pit tonight. I mean, sure...I recognized them. Know them pretty well, actually, after 57 games together. But this performance was pretty near perfect. They did everything they're capable of, all night long. Very impressive.
In my pregame chat with Jerome, I asked if they could PLEASE score early and break the playoff scoring drought. That was goal number 1. A two-fer, actually. Break the drought AND take the lead. He said that was the plan, that the guys were ready and focused...and packed to leave by midnight tonight. :)
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Two first-period PPG certainly set the tone for the rest of the night. The new guy, Shayne Stockton, made his first pro goal count. He was still beaming after the game. Neilsson Arcibal scored on a deflection...two PPG...2-0 lead...end of the first.
At this point, I'm feeling pretty good for two reasons. First of all, the Neilsson-Preston Shupe line was successful. A big key to winning in the playoffs is having two scoring lines. Since Steve Mele left, Neilsson and Preston haven't clicked with anybody else. Shayne looked comfortable out there and the line produced two goals.
The checking line had a fantastic game. I really hate to single out any of them, but Levi Lind had an outstanding game. He was everywhere, hitting everything in sight.
To me, the key moment of this game came early in the second period. Only :27 in, Peoria scores and cuts the lead to a single goal. A collective groan went up from the crowd. But...here's the key moment. The Snakes refused to back down. Jordan Draper scored just 13 seconds later to put the Snakes up 3-1. They never looked back.
Kyle Rank, the odds-on favorite for Goalie of the Year (though last year the odds-on favorite didn't win...will I ever get over that? Nope.) was clearly not seeing the puck tonight. Part of that was because the Snakes peppered him with shots. The pace was quick and both goalies got "accidentally" hit a time or two. Rank was pulled for the first time this season. He gave up four goals and Kevin Carr two.
Alex Gallant and Levi had a two-on-one on Rank with the Snakes up 3-1. Levi scored and Alex kind of rolled over Rank. His teammates didn't like that much (ya'all know how they are if one finger is laid on the goalie) so Jarrett Rush jumped Alex. Rank was pulled after the fourth goal.
There were quite a few missed calls in this game, even with two referees. The most flagrant occurred right in front of us late in the second period. The Rivermen were pretty frustrated at this point, down 5-1. Right after Matt Gingera scored his second goal of the night, Peoria captain Cole Ruwe laid a two-handed slash on Alex. I mean he swung his stick like a baseball bat. Alex was pretty steamed and retaliated. No call on either player. It was reckless and dangerous. Wow.
Ruwe was at it again in the third period when he slashed Matt along the boards. Mike Switzer jumped him. Ruwe had 157 PIMs in the regular season. We saw quite a few examples of his aggressiveness tonight. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Sunday.
Speaking of calls, I saw Mark Faucette, director of officiating, after the game. We exchanged pleasantries and when I asked him how he was doing, he said that he could be better. Wonder if he's finished dressing down Andy Howard and Mike Sheehan yet...
In the third period, Alex was given a five-minute major for checking from behind. With 2:07 left on his major, Kyle Johnson was called for tripping, giving Peoria a 5-on-3. The Snakes successfully killed the penalty, with all the grit and determination they displayed all night. Will Aide blocked a shot and so did Chris Bailer during the penalty kill. Everybody came out with the intention of leaving everything on the ice...and they did. I should really list every single player's name as each one did his or her job with precision and enthusiasm. It was a great game to watch.
The end of my story in today's paper was cut. I asked Jerome why rookie Garrett Vermeersch, who is Peoria's leading scorer, saw so little playing time after the first period. JB said that Vermeersch hit the boards and hurt his shoulder in the first period. He played very sparingly for the rest of the game. Since he scored the two goals on Wednesday night and chipped in 57 points during the regular season, it'll be a huge loss to the Rivermen if he couldn't go on Sunday. My thought is that since the game was out of hand, he was probably held out as a precaution.
So, which team shows up on Sunday? BOTH teams will have experienced that grueling bus ride. BOTH will be playing their third game in five days...on the heels of 56 others. Both have good goalies. Both have the capability to score.
I think the key is the Snakes offense. If all three lines play like they did tonight, Snakes advance...which is what I think will happen.
Snakes 4, Rivermen 2.