Devils lose Game 1 late, 2-1
It was looking as though the Albany Devils were going to make a statement about playoff experience.
That being that it's unnecessary.
The fifth-seeded Devils had played the No. 4 St. John's IceCaps hard and looked as comfortable as if they'd been there each of their previous three seasons since coming to Albany.
Of course, they hadn't.
Few Devils had played beyond the regular season as pros, and a tight game seemed bound for overtime before Ben Chiarot's knuckling shot from the right point got past Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid with 23.1 seconds left.
St. John's took Game 1, 2-1, earning at least a split in the two-game set at the Times Union Center before the best-of-five series flies back to Newfoundland for Game 3 on Wednesday.
Any butterflies under the Devils jerseys, though, were worked out in the first period. After that, they brought an energy to the ice that looked as though it may be enough to carry them through this game, if not the series.
“I thought at times in the first, a couple guys looked a little nervous, on a couple exchanges on our breakouts,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “That led to them playing in our end in the second half of the first 10 minutes. But I thought for the most part, guys were dialed in. We were focused. We certainly got better as the game wore on, and that's a good sign. The bench, the room, you could hear guys talking on the ice. For the first time out for a lot of these guys, it was a good showing.”
St. John's struck first at 4:29 in the first period. A turnover behind the Albany net ended up on the stick of former Albany River Rat Jerome Samson, who tried to wrap it around the left post, but the puck squirted out to the slot, where Eric O'Dell was waiting to send it through the five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
Albany drew even at 2:13 of the second period when Joe Whitney scored a power-play goal from the right circle.
The momentum was thrown the Devils' way, and the checking of Whitney's linemate Tim Sestito and defenseman Dan Kelly sustained it.
"It was a big boost to get on the board," Whitney said. "We talked about special teams, it's going to be important throughout the playoffs. It was nice to execute and capitalize on one to give us some momentum there."
Sestito seemed to have a hip on an IceCap a couple times each shift. He centered the line of Whitney and Mike Sislo, the top two goal-scorers for the Devils in the regular season.
"It's a huge boost, the energy that he brings," Whitney said. "It opens up a lot of room for myself and Sis. We've just got to keep doing that."
The Devils started taking more penalties in the late second period, slowing their attack, but they still made life tough on the IceCaps.
"Albany, the pressure they put on us, we were unable to break pucks out cleanly," said St. John's coach Keith McCambridge. "In the third period, the same thing. Back and forth a little bit, but a little more time in our own zone than I would have liked.
"You look at Albany, they don't give up much. They don't allow you to generate much in the offensive zone. It's high-intensity hockey. Everybody realizes what's on the line here."
Near the end of the second period, McCambridge got a bit of a punch in the gut as his top goalie, Michael Hutchinson, went down behind the net when he was slashed by Albany captain Rod Pelley.
With all the rolling around he was doing, it looked more like a soccer "injury" than a hockey one. The trainers came out and looked him over, he got back to his feet and seemed no worse for wear.
"No, I didn't like that," McCambridge said. "I didn't feel too comfortable when I saw him go down like that. He's obviously a big part of our team. We have confidence in our other goaltender, in [Tyler] Beskorowany, but anytime, whether it's your No. 1 or your No. 2, you cringe a little bit as a coach on the bench."
In the last minute of the game, the IceCaps' Jason Jaffray sent a puck to the goal, and the rebound sat loose.
"Sestito was backing up with [defenseman Corbin] McPherson there, and we were still alright off the rush," Kowalsky said. "I think Jaffray probably sensed it was a forward and tried to play him one-on-one and just put a puck to the net. A loose rebound laid there in front of Keith, and when everybody went to the net, he lost his stick. I don't know that he every really recovered. It went to the top and it was a bit of a knuckler that kind of handcuffed him. We weren't able to get in the shooting lane. It's a tough one."
"It was just a routine dump in and the puck jumped a little," Kinkaid said. "I didn't corral it enough, I tried to jump out, and my stick got hit out of my hands. It's a play I should have."
The puck got out to Chiarot at the right point, and his knuckling shot got past Kinkaid. With Kinkaid pulled for an extra attacker in the final 23.1 seconds, the Devils were unable to find the equalizer.
Kinkaid often bows his head or looks away from reporters when he is being interviewed, and it was no different when he said he felt he owed his team a bounce-back win in tonight's Game 2. However, when he was asked if it would be easy to put this game behind him, he suddenly looked up with a smile and said, "What game?"
It's a game the Devils won't want to forget entirely, though. They overcame their own inexperience in the postseason and brought the game to the IceCaps.
"They're a fast team. They're big, strong," Kinkaid said. "They move the puck well, they have great puck-moving D. I think our guys did a great job, though, keeping the shots to the outside, staying in lanes and not giving them too much. A bounce here or there, it's a different game."
"It was a good pace out there," Whitney said. "Obviously, we hadn't seen those guys yet, this was the first time, so a little bit of feeling out. We know what we're in for, and they know what they're in for tomorrow night.
"Tonight's over with. We played the game, we gave it everything we had and it wasn't enough. So you hit the reset button, and we're back at it tomorrow. We're going to try to play the same way, maybe execute a little more and put a few more pucks in the net."
The loss, however close, does put the Devils up against it, though. They need to win Game 2 in Albany or face three elimination games (or rather, at least one) in St. John's.
"That's an intimidating building out there, they play well out there," Kowalsky said. "Tomorrow is certainly an important game for us. We need to come out, we need to win and put ourselves in a good position to go out there and have to win two out of three.
"This being our first playoff game, I think it's good that we get right back at it tomorrow. This game, as it wore on, you could feel the intensity. It was physical. It had a little bit of everything."
"When you come down, when you start on the road like this in the 2-3 format," McCambridge said, "you want to at least try to get a split out of the building to maintain home-ice advantage, and we were fortunate enough to do that tonight. But our thought process is a short-term memory. We've got to make sure we come back and have even more than we brought tonight."
The game was played before a crowd of 6,572. When the last Albany team played in the postseason, the Albany River Rats in 2010, it averaged 2,247 fans over the course of four games.
The Devils' forward lines were Whitney-Sestito-Sislo, David Wohlberg-Pelley-Darcy Zajac, Reid Boucher-Scott Timmins-Harri Pesonen, Stefan Matteau-Kelly Zajac-Mattias Tedenby. Their defenseman pairings were Dan Kelly-Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas-Jon Merrill, Seth Helgeson-Corbin McPherson.
The IceCaps' lines were Patrice Cormier-Kyle MacKinnon-Blair Riley, Jaffray-John Albert-Andrew Gordon, Kael Mouillierat-O'Dell-Carl Klingberg, JC Lipon-Josh Lunden-Samson. Their D pairs were Chiarot-Zach Redmond, Josh Morrissey-Kris Fredheim, Jordan Hill-Brenden Kichton.