ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The St. John's IceCaps finally found a way to put the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins away for good.
Aaron Gagnon had two goals as the IceCaps advanced to the American Hockey League Eastern Conference final with a 3-2 in Game 7 of their series with the Penguins on Saturday.
St. John's will face the top-ranked Norfolk Admirals in the semifinal round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
The IceCaps were up 3-1 in the series, but could not find the elusive fourth win in Game 5 or 6. IceCaps veteran Jason King believes the team was getting frustrated about not closing out the series.
"That was a pretty emotional win," King said. "The boys were pretty frustrated I think, you know, two tough losses in a row. Tonight showed the character of our team."
King said nobody wanted to pack it in, and that showed in the complete game St. John's played.
"I know there wasn't a body in here that wanted to go home. We got a full effort from everybody in here for the full sixty minutes and we got the job done."
Gagnon said home-ice advantage was crucial for the IceCaps inGame 7.
"This is what we play for all year, to get home ice advantage," he said. "When it comes down to it, game seven you want to be in your home rink. I think we took advantage and played a great game tonight."
Ray Sawada also scored for St. John's.
Ryan Craig and Colin McDonald replied for the Penguins.
Ed Pasquale made 25 saves for the IceCaps while Brad Thiessen stopped 25 shots for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sawada scored the game-opening goal at 11:52 in the first period for St. John's. John Albert found Sawada on his way to the net and hit him with a cross-crease pass. Sawada buried a one-timer over a sprawling Thiessen in the Penguins goal.
It was the first time the IceCaps took the opening lead early at home in the series. The Penguins had opened the scoring in the previous three games in St. John's.
Craig tied the game at 6:43 of the second period on a breakaway after a turnover on the Penguins blue-line.
St. John's started the period slowly, but gained some momentum from a penalty kill following the Craig goal. The IceCaps went in front again at 11:35 with a power-play goal. Gagnon took a puck down low and curved out in front of the net. Thiessen was moving with him towards the centre of the crease when Gagnon slid the puck through his legs.
The IceCaps went up 3-1 just 53 seconds into the third period as Gagnon's shot through traffic beat Thiessen.
The Penguins closed the gap to one at 9:36 on a power-play goal from McDonald.
St. John's was 1-for-3 on the power play while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was 1-for-4.
The IceCaps will face a big challenge in the next round, as the Admirals broke a professional hockey record by winning 28 games in a row this season and are viewed as a Calder Cup favourite.
The IceCaps played close games against the Admirals down the stretch, in which they lost 2-1 and 2-0 despite injuries.
"They're a great team, and they proved it all season," King said. "They set records this year, and we had some good games when we played down there. We didn't have our full line-up as well at that time."
The IceCaps will play their first two games of the series in Norfolk, Va., before returning for three games in St. John's if necessary. Game 6 and 7 would go in Norfolk if needed.