One weekend to go in the regular season, Snakes fans. So far on the current five-game road trip, the Cottonmouths are 2-1. This weekend was certainly a study in contrasts. The night after a shutout win in Biloxi came a bizarre 6-2 meltdown in Augusta.
The story of this game was turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. (didn't want to write it 6 times). Hopefully, this was the whole season's worth. I can't remember this many in one game, or should I say this many costly ones.
The game got off to a shaky start with Orrin Hergott and Andrew Krelove taking penalties and giving Augusta an early five-on-three, though for only 29 seconds. The Snakes successfully killed it as they did all five RiverHawks power plays. So far, so good.
Then came the Kevin Kessler Hit of the Game. Like vitamins...One-a-Day...Kevin rattles the glass once a night. The hit came pretty early last night. I actually wasn't ready for it. Kevin caught center Brendan Taylor with his head down and leveled him. After a brief discussion among the ref and linesmen, Kevin was not given a penalty. Augusta's Ken Vezina, the voice of reason as Mike Vee was about to lose it, agreed it was a clean hit. Good enough for me. Thanks, Ken!
There was a stoppage of play while Taylor tried to collect himself, which, sorry to say he couldn't. As far as Mike and Ken could see, Taylor didn't return to the game. He didn't have a choice but to sit out the whole first period per a new SPHL rule, which I think is ridiculous. I understand its intent. You don't want a guy faking an injury so his team can get a breather or for whatever reason. Missing a whole period of play unnecessarily seems crazy to me. Oh, well...back to the game.
Everyone's favorite Hawk, Aaron McGill, is back from the CHL. From what I could tell he was pretty controlled last night. No foolishness, just hockey. Well, a little foolishness, which resulted in his coach yanking him on to the bench. We didn't see it, but Mike and Ken's description was pretty comical.
McGill had just been sprung from the penalty box when the Hawks struck first. The first of three Brenden Kosolofsky goals gave Augusta a 1-0 lead. Not a big deal. Scoring first is better, but...
Things were about to get a whole lot worse. Two straight turnovers in the Snakes zone, at close to the same spot, added two Augusta goals in a 3:49 span gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead. I think Tom Maldonado coughed it up the first time and Sam Bowles the second. The three goals were scored within five minutes. Yikes.
Ken made a comment that turned out to be right on the mark. Ken said that the next goal in this game would be huge. If Augusta scored, a four-goal lead would be almost insurmountable. If the Snakes scored, it was certainly not too late to mount a comeback. Ready for the second period.
Will Barlow was whistled for cross-checking at the 6:55 mark. Daniel Amesbury invited Tyler Howe to dance, which they did. McGill jumps into the fray and Colin Kronforst tries to sort out the penalties. All of a sudden, McGill gets a pass and is removed from the penalty box. Nobody knows why. Will has the cross-checking minor, Daniel an instigator minor and the two majors for fighting. You do the math: a five-on-three for a full two minutes, while simultaneously trying to keep the deficit at three goals and mount a comeback. Not a great situation.
But the PK came through and killed the five-on-three, the start of good things to come, however temporary.
Dave Cianfrini got high-sticked near his ear, drawing blood. I know it's time for the season to be over when I lose all reason, judgement and perspective. When Vee said the hit drew blood, I hollered "good!"...geeez. So sorry, Dave!!! Well, considering the way it worked out, I'm sure Dave was happy to donate a little blood for the cause. :)
Mike commented that it would be great if the Snakes could get a PPG during each segment of this double minor. "Yeah, right, Mike! They haven't scored one goal in 26 minutes and they're going to get two in four." haha. Brilliant forensic analysis by yours truly.
Bang, bang. Bret Tyler launched a LONG shot from just inside the blue line which Sammy deflected in. Then, in a similary play only 21 seconds later, Jordan Braid tipped in a long shot from Sam. 3-2. New game. Unbelievable.
Unbelievable also describes the end of the period. As the clock was winding down, Kronforst was inexplicably trailing the play by, oh, half the length of the ice. The linesmen were down in the Augusta zone, as were all of the players but two. Tom and Kosolofsky were exchanging pleasantries. Now Kosolofsky has four inches, a few pounds and 100 PIM on Tom, but they were engaged in a shoving match. The linesmen should have been separating them and the ref engaged in the action because, as it turned out, he was needed at the other end of the ice.
Sam launched a long shot at the buzzer. At the Snake Pit, the electronic system won't allow the goal judge to activate the red light if the clock has reached 0:00. But apparently, at the James Brown Arena, they don't have that technology. So it's the ref's call whether or not the puck crossed the goal line before the buzzer. Kind of tough when he's at the other end of the ice.
I don't think it was a goal and I'm basing this only because Jerome stayed completely clothed and all the water bottles remained on the bench. No heaving stuff at the ref, no removal of the suit jacket or other clothing items. Still, it would've been nice to have the ref in position to tell us that.
Playing devil's advocate for a moment: would a 3-3 game entering the final period have affected the final outcome? Doubtful. Another disastrous stretch...this one covering 3:55.
The first one, arguably, was the worst. Ian Vigier played the original shot and the rebound trickled out. Ian and Tom were both trying to clear it when the puck hit off Tom's skate and went into the net. 4-2 after they'd climbed out of the three-goal hole. Two Kosolofsky goals only 2:36 apart and the game was over.
Another great observation by Ken: "Augusta grabbed the game by the throat in the third period." Definitely.
Ian gave up six goals, technically, though I'm interested to hear how many of them Jerome (and Ian) considered his. Shaky defensive play in their own zone cost Ian and the Snakes dearly. Probably not the time to say this, but I still think this is the best D in the league. Even the best has an off night. They usually protect the goalie and provide a fortress in front of the net. Not last night.
The season series still belongs to the Snakes: 4-3-1. The Snakes are 2-2-1 in Augusta and 2-1 at home with the regular-season finale at the Pit on Saturday.
Thanks to, literally, a last-minute win by the MSRK, Knoxville and Columbus remain tied for second. Augusta clinched the Coffee Cup for regular-season champs. Knoxville and Columbus have three games left...one vs each other on Thursday in Knoxville. Second place is huge because it guarantees home ice throughout the playoffs except for the finals if Augusta makes them.
The Snakes schedule for the weekend is dreadful travel-wise. They go to Knoxville on Thursday, to Fayetteville on Friday and travel through the night to face Augusta at home on Saturday.
A big battle remains for the fourth-place slot and home-ice advantage in the first round. Only one point separates the Mississippi Surge and Pensacola for the fourth slot. The Surge have 3 games left and Ice Flyers 2.
Should be an amazing final weekend!!