Friday, May 16, 2014

On the cusp: Ice start, finish strong in Game 3 win

The Indiana Ice put themselves one victory away from a Clark Cup championship Friday night with a textbook performance in a 4-1 victory over the Waterloo Black Hawks in Game 3 of the Clark Cup Final. The Ice now lead the best-of-5 series two games to one, with Game 4 set for the Pan Am rink with a puck drop of 7:05 p.m. on Saturday night.

Tyler Pham scored with 7:15 left in the first period, then fed Patrick Newell for what would become the game-winner six minutes later. Mitch Hults had a power play goal late in the second to briefly put the Ice up 3-0, and Scott Conway had the dagger into an empty net. Jason Pawloski was stellar in goal, making 28 saves -- including quite a few point-blank stops in the early part of the second period when Waterloo had a big push that resulted in two power plays. The only blemish was a snipe through traffic by Patrick Russell that deflected off the inside of the post with 15 seconds left in the second.

In a game where plays had to happen quickly -- space was at a premium, and time was even more at one -- the Ice's first two goals came on quick strikes. Just as in the first two games, the two teams, so evenly-matched, with a great number of offensive weapons, played intense, disciplined hockey, allowing very few windows for the opponent to get a good scoring chance. The series so far has been a great showcase of the best teams in the USHL.

The first goal came off the rush, as Joe Sullivan -- who had scored the OT winner in Game 2 -- carried across the line and threaded the needle to Pham, who was streaking in from the wing to the slot. Pham needed just a moment to roof a shot into the top shelf over Waterloo goaltender Cal Petersen's shoulder for his first playoff goal. A power play later in the period didn't net an Ice goal, but in the "vulnerable minute" right after the PP ended, the Ice maintained possession and fed Pham behind the net. He quickly saw Newell pop free at the top of the crease and fed him for a one-timer that ended up eluding Petersen.

While the Ice dominated the first period -- outshooting Waterloo 9-4 -- Pawloski had to be sharp at the start of the second. A penalty to Scott Conway 1:14 in gave Waterloo a power play that led to a pair of tremendous chances at the top of the slot in the first minute, but Pawloski held both out. A minute after that penalty ended, Alex Talcott went off for holding, but the Ice penalty kill didn't allow Waterloo an opportunity to set up in the zone. After that, it was largely 5-on-5 hockey, save for a late second-period penalty on the Black Hawks' Derek Pratt that saw Conway feed Hults across ice for a one-timer from the faceoff dot to make it a 3-0 game.

The third period was a textbook example of how to play with a lead -- the Ice controlled play, forced it into the Waterloo end for much of the period, made the simple, safe play out of the zone and forechecked aggressively, without taking chances in the offensive zone. In the other end, they kept the Black Hawks to the outside and allowed few rebounds for the team's numerous scorers. Even when Waterloo pulled Petersen for an extra attacker, it could only muster one trickling shot at Pawloski. Meanwhile, Talcott forced a turnover at center and fed Conway for the empty-netter, which he fired in from the blueline. It was the third straight attempt up ice by Waterloo that the Ice had forced a neutral-zone turnover -- the first two went wide.

Box score

3 stars:
1. Tyler Pham (Ice) G, A
2. Jason Pawloski (Ice) 28 saves
3. Alex Talcott (Ice) 2A, +3

A baker's dozen takeaways
  1. The Ice were simply outstanding in the neutral zone and in their own end. Space was virtually nonexistent for Waterloo, the Black Hawks were largely kept to the outside, with few rebound opportunities -- and Pawloski was there to get them when there were. The Ice also won a majority of the puck battles along the wall and prevented Waterloo from turning it into an end-to-end game. The smaller Pan Am rink (NHL regulation size of 200x85 feet rather than the Olympic-sized sheet Waterloo plays on) definitely looked to be to the Ice's advantage tonight, as space was simply not there. 
  2. The one period where the Ice weren't as perfect was the second, where Waterloo had a 13-9 shot advantage, much of it built up in the early part of the period, but even there, the Ice and Black Hawks tied the period. 
  3. Waterloo has yet to score a first-period goal in the series -- it has scored four in the second and three in the third. The Ice have now scored four of their nine goals in the series in the first, with two each in the second and third and one in OT. 
  4. Pham, Conway and Talcott all had two-point games. Pham's goal was his first in 15 playoff games over three years with the Ice. Conway added his ninth and 10th points to add to his team lead. In all, eight different players got onto the scoresheet.
  5. Again, the Ice get production from multiple lines -- the four goals were scored by members of three different lines, and the other line of Jacob Pritchard-Brian Pinho-Aidan Muir was its usual hard-to-match-with self. 
  6. Pham was a deserving No. 1 star even if he hadn't scored. He was critical in the neutral zone and on the backcheck in disrupting Waterloo's attempts to build an end-to-end attack. He always appeared to be in perfect position to intercept passes and slow down the rush. His line with Joe Sullivan and Alex Talcott has quietly been called upon to do much of the dirty work, but it has been rewarded big-time in the last two games. Talcott and Pham were both plus-3.
  7. The key for the Ice going into the series was to keep the games 5-on-5 -- and that largely happened tonight, as each team got two power plays. But what few likely foresaw was the fact that, so far, the Ice have won the special teams battle. With another PPG tonight, Indiana is 3-9 with the man advantage this series. The Ice PK was also perfect in two tries -- and other than the first minute of the first power play, didn't allow Waterloo a sustained attack. Waterloo is now 1-8 on the PP -- after clicking at 32.5% in the playoffs coming into the final, and 25% in the regular season. Discipline will have to remain key -- both Ice penalties were taken in the offensive zone, and both Waterloo penalties came on attempts to make a big hit.
  8. Patrick Newell's game-winner was his first goal since Game 2 of the Green Bay series, and it was very similar to those -- a quick one-timer from the top of the crease. Newell has tied Conway for the team lead with four goals. 
  9. Mitch Hults scored his third goal of the postseason after potting five in 36 games during the regular season. All three of his playoff goals have come on the power play.
  10. The last time an Indianapolis-based hockey team had an opportunity to clinch a title on home ice was 1990 -- when the Indianapolis Ice swept Muskegon for the IHL Turner Cup title. The Checkers also did so in the 1982 CHL Adams Cup Final, when practically the entire series was played at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, on the second try. The 1950 Capitals won on the first try, and the 1942 Capitals did as well in a winner-take-all Game 5. 
  11. Coach Jeff Brown has juggled his lines a bit, keeping Pritchard-Pinho-Muir and Pham-Sullivan-Talcott largely together. Sam Kurker skated on right wing with Denis Smirnov and Scott Conway, while Dwyer Tschantz skated with Mitch Hults and Patrick Newell. The D pairings have been consistent throughout the playoffs. 
  12. The Ice's win marked Waterloo's first regulation loss of the postseason. The Black Hawks had previously been 7-0 in regulation and 0-2 in OT games.
  13. Waterloo defenseman (and USHL Player of the Year) Brandon Montour landed a game-high five shots on goal, most from the point, but Pawloski got to them all. Tyler Sheehy had four shots for Waterloo and was a strong forward for the Black Hawks.
Ice lines
Mitch Hults-Patrick Newell-Dwyer Tschantz
Tyler Pham-Joe Sullivan-Alex Talcott
Denis Smirnov-Scott Conway-Sam Kurker
Jacob Pritchard-Brian Pinho-Aidan Muir

Tim Shoup-Ryan Mantha
Austin Kosack-Josh Jacobs
Matt Roy-Mike Preston

Jason Pawloski
B: Hayden Stewart

Scratches: D-Chris Martenet, Vince Pedrie; F-Jason Salvaggio, Tyler Andrew

Waterloo lines
Liam Pecararo-Peter Krieger-Patrick Russell
Blake Winiecki-Tyler Sheehy-Drew Melanson
John Wiitala-Jake Horton-Lawton Courtnall
Zach Sanford-Tyson McLellan-Tim Lappin

Hayden Shaw-Brandon Montour
Dane Cooper-Mark Friedman
Derek Pratt-Alec McCrea

Cal Petersen
B: Cam Johnson

Scratches: D-Austin Fieth, Cooper Watson, Phil Beaulieu; F-Nick Olczyk, Brandon Salerno

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