There’s an old adage that says a playoff series doesn’t start until the road team wins a game. Thanks to Saturday night’s win in Johnstown, the Maryland Black Bears have made this a series.
Game One wasn’t as great for the Black Bears on the scoreboard, but if you take away their shaky first period, they had plenty of momentum in their last 40 minutes. The defense was alive on the score sheet with all three goals Friday coming from the blue line with Cam Gaudette getting the first playoff goal in franchise history, while Philip Törnqvist notched two goals in the second period. It wasn’t to be, as the three-goal first period for Johnstown did the Black Bears in with a 5-3 final count.
As playoffs and rivalries are wont to do, the game broke down and the commentators for Johnstown made it sound like it was the greatest tragedy in the history of sports. It’s a shame, as I quite like Rick Hull calling the game for Johnstown. Though, they did have a point that the linesmen were doing something bizarre as fights were breaking out, it didn’t deserve the ire and passion Hull put into– especially given what would happen Saturday night.
However, like I said, the Black Bears had a solid second and third periods in Game One. Once they got over whatever jitters they may have had, they kept the game plan to what they needed to do and looked pretty solid as they headed into Game Two.
But I don’t think anyone thought they would start off the way they did on Saturday night.
A four-goal first period paced the Black Bears in Game Two. The final two goals coming 57 seconds apart by Jude Kurtas in the slot and Josh Nixon picking up a rebound at the side of the net. Though, despite how good the first period was, the second period got a little dumb when all was said and done. Forget the two goals that Johnstown scored, the biggest issue were the predatory hits that Johnstown put on Aden Bruich and Aidan McDowell.
Bruich was receiving a pass when he was blindsided by a Johnstown player, with contact being around the head area. Whether or not the initial point of contact was to the head (ed. note: I feel that the first point of contact was right under the chin– thus making it to the head), the blindside nature of it was what should have been taken into account. McDowell in the middle of an defending a Johnstown offensive rush when Dominic Schimizzi elbowed McDowell in the head. Schimizzi was given a match penalty, which should mean he is out for Game Three. Both Bruich and McDowell went off on their own power, but the fact only one got a penalty called on it seems criminal.
Not withstanding, the Black Bears were able to get their heads right, not get too overboard with trying to get physical revenge, and were able to convert after the major power play thanks to a bullet from Kevin Scott to make it 5-3. All of Johnstown’s goals came on the power play Saturday, but Luke Mountain’s empty netter sealed the victory for Maryland and gave them their third win of the year in Johnstown this season.
A big point of contention that did come up was the Black Bears’ penalty kill– which was 3rd in the NAHL during the regular season– letting up five power play goals against and one just after a penalty expired. Obviously, when that kind of drop happens immediately– there’s a cause for concern. Of course, a cause for concern could be the penalties themselves, sure; but with clearing attempts being intercepted to stop a clearing attempt or taken right off the blade, the execution of the PK is something that should be looked at as well– especially with a team as good on the power play as Johnstown.
On a better note, the quick adjustments made at the end of Game One and into Game Two is a big bright spot for this team. They didn’t let bad happenstances get to them and found a way to pick at some weaknesses of Johnstown and get onto them early and dictate the pace rather than the other way around. That will be a big point going back home for Game Three. The Black Bears will have their home crowd at the rink, they’ll need to draw off the energy of tying the series up, as well as being back at home to the faithful of The Den.
The home set at The Den are Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30 PM. Ticket available at the Severn Bank Ticket Center at MarylandBlackBears.com or available on HockeyTV if you can’t make it out there.