Metro Downs Xpress, 4-2, To Advance
For the second straight game, the Southern Tier Xpress blew a lead against the top team in the North American Tier III Hockey League.
Saturday night, it spelled the end of their season.
Fourth-seeded Southern Tier relinquished one-goal leads in both the first and second periods, and the Metro Jets took over in the third period en route to a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of their best-of-three East Division semifinal playoff series.
“That’s a team that’s been through the playoff rigors and battles a little bit more than we have,”Southern Tier head coach Lou Santini said. “Maybe that showed through a little bit.”
The sweep sends the top-seeded Jets into next weekend’s East Division final against the second-seeded Pittsburgh Vengeance, who swept their own semifinal series against the third-seeded Lansing Wolves.
“We never look ahead past the next game,” Metro head coach Justin Quenneville said. “Our concern isn’t even the national championship, it’s just winning the next game.”
Much like Thursday night’s Game 1 changed on a Connor Inger penalty shot, Saturday night’s game changed on a play from the Jets star early in the third period. Inger circled around the Xpress zone with the puck on his backhand, losing his defender in the process. The 40-goal scorer then lost control as he neared the Southern Tier crease, but the puck found the stick of teammate Matt Schaumburger, who went backhand to forehand to beat Xpress goaltender Ryan Pascarella and give Metro a 3-2 lead just 53 seconds into the final 20 minutes.
“He’s been money for us all year. There were some chances tonight for him to break it open, but he just wasn’t able to get it through,” Quenneville said of Inger. “That was a clutch play he made to get that game-winner for us.”
Less than two minutes later, the Jets put the game away. Southern Tier’s defense attempted to move the puck up the wall where forward Marks Mezsargs took possession just inside his own blue line. He was unable to clear the zone and Devlin Macaulay took control. The Jets defenseman’s wrister found its way through traffic in front of the net and past Pascarella for a 4-2 Metro lead with 17:31 remaining in the game.
“I think what he was trying to do was chip it off the glass. Instead of getting off the glass it got a bad bounce,” Santini said of Mezsargs. “Their guy was waiting right there for it. It’s a tough situation.”
The Jets then shut down the Xpress through the neutral zone, allowing just five shots in the third period while holding a 59-20 shot advantage in the game.
“It’s so important against this team to get pucks in deep,” Santini said. “When we did get pucks in deep we did a good job. Making a couple of passes and getting it in deep was the toughest thing.”
Much like it did Thursday night, Southern Tier took an early lead in the game and put Metro on its heels. Midway through the first period, Stuart Pearson skated off the wall toward the middle of the Jets defensive zone and fired a backhand shot on net that found its way off the goal post behind goaltender Brian Tallieu. Michael Lamison was there and tapped the rebound in for a 1-0 lead with 9:24 left in the frame.
The short-handed Xpress nearly made it 2-0 early in the second period. With Hunter Kepple in the penalty box, Southern Tier’s Tristan Mock went in on a breakaway from the far blue line with 15:24 left in the period, but was foiled by Tallieu.
“We tell our guys ‘Don’t worry about your numbers, just focus on the stop you need to make for your team.’ Our philosophy here is to just beat the other goalie,” Quenneville said. “I don’t care if he’s getting 40 shots and you are only getting 16. If you have to stop a breakaway that’s your time to shine.”
Just 21 seconds later, the Jets tied the game on the power play as Reggie Millette took a pass from Robby Flannery on the right wing and shot a wrist shot through an Xpress defender that beat Pascarella under his right armpit to tie the game at 1-1.
Southern Tier took the lead back less than three minutes later as Lamison took the puck behind the net and threw it out front where Joey Gerace dug it out of his feet and slid it past Tallieu to go up 2-1.
That didn’t last long as Anthony Cinato won the ensuing faceoff back to Kyle Gierman, who passed up to Jeremy Schwartz on the left wing. Schwartz skated into the Xpress zone, cut to the middle and beat Pascarella with a wrist shot high to the blocker side that glanced in off the crossbar just eight seconds after Gerace’s goal.
“That was a nice way to respond,” Quenneville said. “It’s not very often that you see that, but it was a heckuva of a job by our guys to be clutch in the moment.”
The Jets continued to carry the play throughout the second period and were rewarded for it with their two-goal third period that will now give them a chance to repeat as East Division playoff champs.
Southern Tier goes into the offseason riding the momentum of a strong second half of the season that saw them win nine of their final 12 games. Just four Xpress players will be too old for junior eligibility next season.
“I’m really proud of the guys. We really came on in the second half of the season,” Santini said. “I think we planted some seeds for progress and the future of the program. I think everything is getting ready for a good future ahead of us.”
Original article by Matt Spielman, The Post-Journal.