With the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins set to embark on their NHL-leading 13th straight playoff appearance next week, there was a Pittsburgh crowd rounding into mid-playoff form, cladded with yellow towels and all to help push the Pittsburgh Pens Elite into a semifinal spot after a 4-1 win over Honeybaked.
Pens Elite helped use the energy in the building to put together a quick start with a pair of first period goals, along with a sensational game from Matthew MacArthur in net, who made 31 saves in the win over a Honeybaked team that went 3-0-0-0 through pool play.
“We knew it was something that if we used it the right way we could build off of the crowd,” Pens Elite head coach Graham Harkins said. “Scoring two quick goals in our last two games has really helped the boys settle down. That’s one of the advantages of being at home, you want to have a fast start especially when the stands are pretty full. It was exciting for the boys and for myself to see all that support that’s been there.”
The fans were certainly into it early, thanks to an early goal just 1:08 into the first period. Off a scramble in front, Lucas Ross slide the puck past Honeybaked goaltender Cameron Korpi. Matthew DiMarsico picked up an assist on the play.
Later in the first period, Ross picked the pocket of a Honeybaked defender and steamed into the offensive zone on a rush, firing a shot that produced a rebound, scooped up by Evan Konyen to push the Pens up 2-0 with 4:00 left in the frame.
Honeybaked had a few quality chances to turn the tide of the game, but MacArthur was able to shut the door. Honeybaked’s power-play has been an aspect of their game that has allowed them to open up the floodgates at times this tournament, but they went 0-for-5 on the day, in large part to some aggressive penalty killing for Pittsburgh.
It seems like the black-and-yellow group’s opening 4-1 loss against the Chicago Mission was a wakeup call that with the bigger stage of the National Championships, their level of play would have to be higher if they were going to stay alive. To the delight of Harkins, they’ve continued to survive.
“We had a tough start against the Mission. Since then we basically told the guys we’re playing in elimination games ever from now on,” Harkins said. “Our backs have been against the wall since the start of the tournament, since that was the first game of the tournament. Our guys responded the right way, we’re playing the right way and we’re scoring timely goals. We’re scoring goals on the rush, we’re scoring goals off faceoffs. I think the Mission game wasn’t exactly our best game, but I think we’ve brought an improvement to the rink every day since.”
Pittsburgh continued that high level of play and playing a sound game into the second period, as Honeybaked grew frustrated and took a few minor penalties. On the power play, Pens Elite forward Adam Mahler took a wrist shot from the high slot that navigated through a screen and past Korpi, pushing the lead to 3-0, 6:48 into the period. Cole Bianchin was credited with an assist on the play.
Four minutes later, Konyen pounced on a rebound to extend the lead to 4-0. Colton Mauser and Connor Chi were credited with assists on the play, as Rocco Stolz entered in relief in net for the Michigan-based squad.
Honeybaked finally solved MacArthur when Rutger McGroaty took a wrist shot from the lower circle, tallying a short-handed goal with 4:00 remaining in the game. However, any hope of a comeback was short lived with DiMarsico scoring an empty-net goal with 2:13 left in the game.
With the win, Pens Elite will meet Little Caesars in the semifinal round, with that game beginning at 2:00pm tomorrow. It will be Pittsburgh’s toughest test yet, as Little Caesars has outscored the opposition 28-5, including today’s 6-1 win over the Buffalo Jr Sabres.
“Little Caesars is obviously a deep team, they have three really strong lines,” Harkins said. “They’re the number one team for a reason. We’re going to need an effort like we had today of playing the right way and hopefully a timely goal to get the crowd into it.”
Could the home crowd play a role and pave the way to a quick start once again?
“For us to make the final four, we’re happy but we’re looking for more,” Harkins said. “Little Caesars is going to be a heck of a test.”
Tucker Shedd scored for the Detroit-based group only 29 seconds into the game, but Buffalo's Quentin Musty responded with a goal 3:39 into the first period. However, from there it was all Little Caesars, with five unanswered goals. Cameron VanSickle, Dylan Gordon, Michael Mesic, Jackson Ewald and Justin Varner did the damage to secure a berth in the semifinal vs. Pittsburgh. Trent Boryszcuk had 18 saves for Little Caesars while Austin McNicholas stopped 26 shots for the Sabres.
The two teams split goals in the first period, Ryan Transit for Compuware, Andon Cerbone for Mid Fairfield, before the real drama ensued. With each team fighting for ground and a chance at having some fun in the semifinals, James Shannon picked up a loose puck in the crease and reached around Compuware goaltender Michael Colarossi to put the Jr Rangers up 2-1 with 4:36 left to play. Not for long though, as on the next shift, Seamus Casey – the tournament’s leading scorer with 11 points, as a defenseman – popped in a goal, depositing a puck that squirted out of full on chaos in the crease. That tied up the game with 3:10 left to play.
The Jr Rangers followed that up with a couple quality chances on Colarossi – who finished with 13 saves – but were unable to score. Compuware’s Ryan Abraham was, picking up the remnants of a slapshot that went wide and careened out the other side from Patrick Czarnecki. The goal past Richard Holohan – he of a 21-save performance – was scored with 1:54 remaining and stood as the decisive tally, pushing Compuware onto the semifinals to face…
The Florida Alliance, who held on to top Shattuck-St. Mary's 3-2. Anthony Kahl put Florida on the board first, 3:20 into the second period with a power play goal, assisted by Jackson Graber and Aiden Dubinsky. Issac Howard helped Shattuck equalize midway through the 2nd period. The Alliance responded with a pair of goals, Luke Jankauskas and Graber, both unassisted to give Florida a 3-1 lead after 40 as Shattuck struggled to stay at even strength with four minor penalties in the middle frame. Howard buried his second of the game on a wrist shot with 1:37 remaining, but the Sabres were unable to solve Jacob Fowler again before time expired. Fowler finished with 21 saves while Christian Manz had 27 stops for Shattuck. The Alliance will battle with Compuware tomorrow.