Odenton, Maryland can now be called Upset City.
Saturday night, the Maryland Black Bears overcame three deficits against the Johnstown Tomahawks and used two goals in 37 seconds to take the deciding Game Five, upset the top-seed in the division, and win their first playoff series in franchise history. Maryland will now face the winner of the New Jersey/Maine series, which will be decided Sunday night.
The first period was a sandwich period for Maryland, as Johnstown dictated the pace at the start of the frame, but Michael Morelli kept the sheet clean that the start. The Black Bears in the middle of the frame started to put their own pressure on the Johnstown net, with a couple opportunities on Sam Evola, but nothing to show for it. Johnstown then took over towards the end of the frame before they finally struck thanks to a Will Margel goal with 1:39 remaining in the first. Johnstown scored the first goal in four of the five games of this series.
Maryland tried to garner some momentum, but the forecheck of Johnstown stymied any movement that the Black Bears tried to make. Maryland finally got on the board due to some quick passing from everyone. Puck gets dumped into Morelli, to shoveled it over to Sean Kilcullen, who saw a line change for Johnstown was happened– so he quickly passed it to the far blue line were Tanner Rowe was waiting, gained the zone, and hit Daniel Colabufo with a cross-ice pass for Colabufo to put it near-side on Evola to tie the game. Maryland tried to build off the goal, moving the puck more and getting more offensive zone time, but Johnstown would regain the lead after Reed Stark scored on a breakaway by getting behind the defense after being taken down in the zone and slowly getting back into the play, looking for an outlet pass.
Johnstown took the lead into the third for the fourth time in this series, but Maryland had comeback before and knew they needed a big period to keep their season going. Cue the duo of Colabufo and Rowe, who hooked up again in the middle of the frame with Branden Piku finding Rowe, who cut between the Johnstown defense before finding Colabufo to put it blocker side on Evola again to make it two apiece. Not many penalties were called in this game, but the two called in the shift effected the rest of the game going forward. Jack Hillman got called on a holding call, which put the deadly Johnstown power play to work. Following a scramble off a Margel shot, John Gelatt scored to put Johnstown ahead. Less than 90 seconds later, Johnstown got called for a hooking, putting Maryland on their second power play. They didn’t wait long, as right off the face off win by Rowe, Dylan Finlay ripped home a wrist from the top of the circle to tie the game once again.
Knowing they couldn’t get down again, the Black Bears quickly went to work. Following a Johnstown shot that went over the net, the puck went to the top of the zone were Grady Friedman picked up the puck and looked over to the Johnstown goal. Streaking down the right side, Friedman drove to the net with Jude Kurtas in-stride with him down the left side, Friedman passed it across right in front of the crease, where Kurtas put home the go-ahead goal 37 seconds after Finlay’s equalizer to put Maryland up 4-3.
With 6:32 remaining, the Maryland defense clamped down on Johnstown’s offensive push and played a steady game in their zone by blocking shots, kept the puck to the outside, while Morelli make key stops to hold off the Tomahawks and take the win, moving to the East Final.
For the Black Bears, to move on in the playoffs is fantastic, but to do it against a team who has historically gotten the better of them is all the more sweeter. Now, the focus is going to be on either Maine or New Jersey, two teams who the Black Bears have played evenly against this season. The Black Bears were 2-2-2 against Maine and 7-6-1 against New Jersey on the year and will have to travel to their rink first to start the series.
However, that’ll wait until next time. Time to celebrate this victory for now and then focus on what’s next on Tuesday.