Curtis McElhinney - author's collection
The Springfield Falcons spent more than twelve hours on Thursday travelling to St. John's, Newfoundland. They will invest another dozen plus on Sunday as they return home. The Birds will be bringing back four hard earned points and (for the time being) the best record in the American Hockey League.
Friday night's game at Mile One Centre built on the major strength that the Falcons have enjoyed throughout the first quarter of the AHL season - superb goaltending by Curtis McElhinney. But, it didn't start out that way.
St. John's newcomer, Kyle Mouillierat solved C-Mac just over two minutes into the game, giving the IceCaps their only lead of the weekend.
Entering the weekend, St. John's was 11-10-0-1 and had split all six of their previous series on home ice. Because getting to the far eastern coast of Canada is such a long roadie, visitors go up there and play on consecutive nights.
Worth noting was the return to the lineup of Ryan Russell, Dalton Prout and Will Weber after they had been sidelined for the past couple of weeks.
The play of Jonathan Audy-Marchessault in this game can't be overstated. The diminutive JAM typically plays with the tenacity of nest full of mad hornets. Game in and game out, JAM plays with well, jam (to use a John Tortorella expression). Friday night was no exception and his speed, his puck sense and yes, even a physical presence all added up to being named the game's #1 star.
Not to sell JAM's game short, but Cam Atkinson turned it up a notch in the third period.
After Springfield built a 3 - 1 lead, some casual neutral zone play let the IceCaps get back into this one as Kevin Clark and Raymond Sawada lit the lamp to tie the game 3 - 3.
Atkinson scored his 11th goal of the season after a nice set up by JAM to give the Birds the lead at 15:54. Cam then followed it with his 12th into the empty net, sealing the win for the Falcons, 5 -3.
Strangely, for his heroics, Atkinson was left off of the star of the game voting. Sawada was #2 and C-Mac was #3.
The clubs returned to Mile One Centre on Saturday night for the rematch.
Mark Dekanich was the starter in goal for St. John's. Dex was appearing in his 11th game of the season for the IceCaps, perhaps a good sign that one of the game's good guys is really on his way back after a brutal 2011-2012 season.
The clubs skated to a scoreless tie in the first 20 minutes. Dekanich and Curtis McElhinney were making it look easy, as both netminders foiled some terrific scoring attempts.
The concession stands were still bustling when Matt Calvert put the Falcons on the board just 24 seconds into the second period. A slick feed from Ryan Johansen set up Calvert for his seventh marker of the season.
Five minutes later, Tomas Kubalik tipped a Tim Erixon point shot past Dekanich giving the Falcons a two goal lead.
C-Mac was busy in the middle frame, facing 19 IceCaps shots. The only one to elude him was a PPG by Maxime Macenauer.
Cam Atkinson picked up his team leading 13th goal at 14:41. Nick Drazenovic and JAM worked a nice little give-n-go. JAM then worked the puck free to Cam, who fired a laser of a one timer that Dex saved nicely. Unfortunately for Dex, he kicked the rebound right back to Cam who made no mistake about it.
St. John's remained game throughout a very entertaining third period. Paul Postma registered his fourth goal of the season on an IceCaps power play at 14:06 to close the gap to 3 - 2.
Ryan Johansen closed it out with his fourth point of the weekend when he hit the empty net after an unselfish dish from Tomas Kubalik, giving Springfield the win.
C-Mac earned the game's #1 star with a sparkling 46 save night. Johansen had the #2 spot with a goal and two helpers, while Macenauer of St. John's picked up third honors.
The Falcons, now 8-1-1 on the road, visit Providence next Friday night. Next Saturday, the IceCaps come back to The Nest to close out the season series with the Falcons.