It took a few tries, but the St. John’s IceCaps finally clinched a playoff spot and the Atlantic Division crown with a solid 3-2 victory over the Hershey Bears Saturday night at the Giant Center.
Patrice Cormier potted two goals for St. John’s, including a shorthanded marker in the opening frame, to lead the club to its 40th win of the season and a guaranteed top-three seeding in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs. The IceCaps become the first team since the 2002-03 Binghamton Senators to win a division title in its inaugural season.
Goaltender Chris Carrozzi, starting just his second AHL game and first with the IceCaps, was tremendous between the pipes, stopping 24-of-26 shots for his first career victory. Arturs Kulda also scored for the IceCaps, while Carl Klingberg picked up a pair of assists.
Hershey struck first at 12:36 of the opening frame on a nice redirection by Mike Carman. Sean Collins took a quick shot from the point that Carman deftly deflected past Carrozzi, who had no chance on the play.
St. John’s tied things up less than four minutes later while down a man. Cormier took a feed in the slot from Klingberg, and the Moncton native wired a shot high on Sabourin for his 16th of the season, tying the game at one.
The IceCaps pulled ahead midway through the second period on a breakaway goal by Kulda. As the defenceman stepped onto the ice following his tripping minor, he was fed by Zach Redmond and raced in alone, snapping a shot high on Sabourin’s blocker side for a 2-1 IceCaps lead.
St. John’s got its third goal of the game at 8:34 of the final frame when Cormier notched his second of the night and 17th of the season. Klingberg busted down the right wing and threaded a cross-ice pass to Cormier, who was barreling towards the net. The big centre shovelled the puck at on goal and it caromed off a Bears defender before ending up past Sabourin, giving the visitors a 3-1 lead.
The insurance goal proved to be huge for St. John’s, as Hershey scored with just 13 seconds left in regulation to narrow the gap to 3-2. The IceCaps couldn’t clear the defensive zone and Kyle Greentree pounced on the turnover, feeding a wide-open Ryan Potulny for his 28th of the season.
However, it was too little too late for the Bears. The IceCaps hung on for the much-deserved win, giving the team with plenty to celebrate as they head home Sunday to start their final home stand of the season. The team will have the next two days to try and rest up for the Portland Pirates, who visit Mile One Centre Tuesday and Wednesday.
Catch all the action with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Rogers at www.stjohnsicecaps.com and on 930AM This Is Newfoundland Labrador.