The Columbus Cottonmouths and Macon Mayhem tangled in another low-scoring affair at the Columbus Civic Center Wednesday night in Game 2 of their best-of-three first round playoff series in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
This time, it required more than just 60 minutes to decide.
Macon’s Collin MacDonald finally solved Cottonmouths netminder Mavric Parks on the 101st shot of the series for the Mayhem, giving them a 1-0 victory and forcing a winner take all Game 3 on Thursday night at the Columbus Civic Center.
Macon will be the “home” team despite the location, which affords it a few perks, such as the last line change and the last to turn in starting lineups.
MacDonald’s goal came one second shy of the 75-minute mark in Wednesday night’s game, beating Parks on the doorstep of the crease after a backdoor pass from John Siemer found him open.
“That was a bang-bang play,” said Columbus head coach Jerome Bechard. “They throw pucks to certain areas and try to get guys there, and obviously they connected.”
Despite the loss, Bechard was pleased with his team’s effort, getting more offensive chances on Wednesday. Columbus finished with 37 shots on goal after getting only 22 on net in Game 1.
“They probably outshot us in the first half of the game, but then we took it to them in spurts,” Bechard said. “We had plenty of chances. We hit a crossbar in the first period. (Simchuk) has a wraparound that could have easily went in.
“We tactically played better. We were in better position. The game was even; last night, they held the play in our end. We figured that out, broke out cleanly, and had our own rushes and sustained pressure in their zone. It was a great hockey game, win, lose, or draw. Anyone who was here tonight got a little extra, and it was a phenomenal event.”
For the two teams, it is the eighth one-goal game in the 10 meetings between the two teams in the regular season and playoffs.
“Outside of the lopsided victory here that Columbus had, we’ve had battles all year,” Mayhem coach Kevin Kerr said. “It’s two hard-working teams that battle and compete. Jerome and I are pretty similar type coaches. We preach hard work and effort, and this doesn’t surprise me that this is the series it’s turned out to be.”
Despite only three power plays handed out in the two games, the series has had its share of physical play, with plenty of hard hits both near and away from the puck.
“The refs let us play, again,” Bechard said. “It was a physical hockey game. We have to keep playing physical, empty the tanks, and play the same way (Thursday).”
“Playoffs are a totally different animal,” Kerr said. “Everyone knows everything ramps up. Come playoff time, the physical play always ramps up. It’s a physical series. I don’t know what else is going on (in other series), but I’d figure this is the hardest-working, hardest-hitting series in the league so far.”
Again on Wednesday, goaltending stole the show. Ruby turned aside all 37 Columbus shots on goal for his first postseason shutout, with Parks stopping 48 of 49 shots on goal for the Cottonmouths.
“You’ve got to give it to Parks, he’s been solid,” Kerr said. “Ruby’s been solid. It’s a great series so far. Out of 160 shots, only two goals have been scored. What else can you say? The goaltending on both sides has been great, and it’s the series I thought it was going to be.”
Both teams will stay in Columbus tonight and prepare for a deciding Game 3 tomorrow, with the winner punching its ticket to the semifinal round of the playoffs.
“It is what it is, and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” Bechard said. “The biggest thing is to keep the guys on an even keel, no highs, no lows. This is just a bump in the road. We deserve to be here, and we deserve to win the series.”
“We won’t change much,” Kerr said. “I don’t think Jerome changes much. We know each other pretty well. It’s going to be survival of the fittest, and the best team will win.”