© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
St. John’s IceCaps forward Patrice Cormier(28) goes after the puck on a scoring chance as Norfolk Admirals players Garnet Exelby (6) and Josh Manson (38) try to clear it away from goaltender John Gibson during second period action at Mile One Centre Tuesday night. The Admirals took Game 1 of the team’s best-of-seven American Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-1.
Norfolk netminder turns in 42-save performance in 3-1 series-opening win over St. John’s
Granted, it’s only Game 1 of a seven-game series, but a hot goaltender is not exactly what you want to see in the playoffs.
And John Gibson isn’t merely hot. He’s searing, like an acetylene torch.
The best goaltender not in the National Hockey League stared down the St. John’s IceCaps Tuesday night, stopping 42 of 43 shots as the Norfolk Admirals registered a 3-1 victory in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinal at Mile One Centre.
Gibson, all of 20, was the key reason the eighth-seeded Admirals upset the top-ranked Manchester Monarchs in the opening-round series. The former world junior gold medalist and world championship bronze medalist for the United States is now 4-1 in the playoffs, with a brilliant 1.34 goals against average and an even more ridiculous .955 save percentage.
“I’m just playing my game right now,” said the Pittsburgh product, in perfect “Aw, shucks” form. “The team is clearing out screens in front of me.
“You have to be on top of your game in the playoffs, and I’m just trying to play the best I can play.”
Andrew Gordon scored the IceCaps’ only goal — his fourth straight, dating back to Game 4 of the first-round series with the Albany Devils — a deflection off a Josh Morrissey shot one second after Chris Wagner left the penalty box.
In the second period alone, following a slow start to the first, St. John’s outshot Norfolk 18-5.
“I thought we generated some good scoring chances,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said. “I thought we had decent traffic, same as the last series against Albany. He (Gibson) has the numbers he has in the playoffs for a reason.
“I thought if you watched the game tonight we did a pretty good job of trying to get traffic in front of him. Their defencemen did an excellent job boxing out and making our forwards really work to find that hard area of the ice.”
Well, at least one of the IceCaps missed that message.
“I think we need more bodies at the net,” said St. John’s defenceman Will O’Neill.
Perhaps the IceCaps could pull a page from the Boston Bruins’ playbook, the one that says they need to get bodies — and lots of them — in front of Carey Price.
“You can see on Gordo’s goal,” O’Neill said, “that we had traffic in front of the net. Just like any goalie, the key is to try and get in front of him (Gibson) and keep peppering him. If they can’t see it, it’s really hard for them to make a save.
“He played great tonight … he’s played great all playoffs. He’s a good goalie. Second and third opportunities (on rebounds) are how we’re going to beat him.”
Nic Kerdiles scored twice for the Admirals, one into an empty net. John Kurtz netted the game-winner 3:40 after Gordon tied the game 1-1. Kurtz banged in a loose puck in the crease after some hard work by big Zack Stortini created a turnover.
Michael Hutchinson was okay for the IceCaps, stopping 23 of 25 shots.
A miscommunication between Hutchinson and IceCaps defenceman Zach Redmond resulted in Kerdiles’s first goal of the game in the first period. The puck was cleared into the St. John’s zone, and stopped by Hutchinson. However, the St. John’s goalie and Redmond got their signals crossed and the result was a turnover, and Kerdiles connecting for his second goal of the playoffs.
“In a way, it’s frustrating (to get so many shots on goal, and have one goal to show for it), but we made a huge push in the second and third period,” O’Neill said.
“We tilted the ice in our favour and that’s a good sign.”
The teams go at it again 7:30 tonight at Mile One.
For a slideshow of images from Game 1 click here.