Devils eliminated in 4-1 Game 4 loss
St. John’s goalie Michael Hutchinson went a long way toward closing the door on the Albany Devils’ season, making 39 saves in Game 4 on Friday and finishing the four games with a 1.51 goals-against average and .952 save percentage, posting a 24-save shutout in Game 3.
He was easily the most outstanding player in the best-of-five first-round Calder Cup Playoffs series.
Still, Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said Friday’s loss just came down to the IceCaps playing a better game. The Devils said all the right things heading into the must-win game, but the top line for the IceCaps accounted for all the St. John’s goals in the 4-1 win after scoring none in the first three games, and Kowalsky said they just seemed to want the puck more.
Andrew Gordon scored his first three goals of the postseason Friday night, one at even strength, then one short-handed, then one on the power play. His linemate John Albert capped the scoring.
“We didn’t have the matchups as much, and you know, that first goal was a puck we couldn’t find,” Kowalsky said. “[Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid] had his foot on the post and it bounced around, kind of an ugly goal. Gordon’s second one, we had a power play, we got our fourth-line guys out there, and we lose the draw but kind of go right by Gordon. He shoots it, he gets his own rebound and there’s three of us standing there. It’s kind of one of those nights where they seemed to want the puck, get the puck more than we did. That’s a goal that can’t go in, and that one definitely hurt us. Gordon gets the one on the power play that’s in Keith’s chest, he’s just about ready to swallow it up, and they bat it out of the air. The Albert goal, he won the puck battle in front and found a way to put it in the net.”
“I can’t really put my finger on what went different,” Albany’s Tim Sestito said of the way the Devils played the top St. John’s line. “They just found ways to get pucks to the net. Little things, pucks squeaked through, and they found their way in. It’s a tough way to go out, but their big-game players put some goals on the board, and we just didn’t have enough to answer tonight.”
The first goal came at 3:47 in the first period when Zach Redmond’s point shot missed wide and after hitting the boards, nestled up next to the right post. Kinkaid was on his belly with his left skate pressed up to the post, but Jason Jaffray was able to knock the puck loose, and Gordon skated in on the right side to punch it through.
The IceCaps scored the first goal in each of the four games in the series.
“I thought tonight they probably came with the most energy out of any of the series,” Kowalsky said. “That goal’s a point shot that misses the net, it tucks up beside the post, we get some D tied up in front and can’t find it, Keith can’t find it. This wasn’t a case, this series, at all of them dominating in some of the areas we’ve seen them dominate during the year, one being off the rush. They had us hemmed in a couple times tonight, and so did we on the other side. It’s playoff hockey, they were able to score the first goal in each of the four games, but I think that’s more a coincidence than anything else.”
At 7:58 of the second period, the IceCaps took their largest lead of the series when Gordon booked his shorty. A high-stick in the neutral zone brought the faceoff into the Albany end with the Devils on a power play. IceCaps penalty killer Patrice Cormier won the faceoff to Gordon in the slot, and he fired. His rebound came right back to him, and he fired again, this time getting it past Kinkaid.
The Devils cut that deficit in half, though, at 9:17 of the second. Defenseman Eric Gelinas sent a pass, left-to-right, D-to-D, to Jon Merrill. Merrill’s slap shot found its way past Hutchinson, ending the Devils’ scoreless streak at 99 minutes, 16 seconds dating back to a Scott Timmins power-play goal at 10:01 of the third period in Game 2.
“I liked our attitude and the feeling on the bench after we got that goal from Jonny to make it 2-1,” Sestito said. “I thought we made a pretty good push. We’ve had chances all series long. We just couldn’t finish, and in the end, I think that’s what doomed us.”
After sending the pass across to Merrill, though, Gelinas was laid out by a late hit behind the play. There was no penalty called on the play, and Gelinas was lost for the remaining 30:43 with a lower-body injury.
The Devils played the rest of the game with five defensemen, losing a good power-play guy and their only plus-player for the night with a plus-one rating (take into account, though, he had no chance to be on the ice for the last two St. John’s goals). Gelinas also, despite missing the last 30-plus minutes, led Albany in shots on goal with five.
“He had a couple quality shots on net tonight, and then made the play D-to-D on the goal,” Kowalsky said. “Even if we don’t get down 4-1, you’re at 2-1 and you have to drop to five D. I thought the guys did a great job playing with five. It’s unfortunate, but it certainly wasn’t why we lost.”
Gordon pushed the St. John’s lead back to two goals at 14:28 when he scored on a power play. Josh Morrissey had taken a shot from the left circle, which hit Kinkaid in the chest. As the puck fell from his chest toward his glove at the left side of the goal, Gordon was on hand to take it out of mid-air to complete his hat trick.
The Devils’ penalty kill was outstanding in the series, stopping 17 of 19 IceCaps power plays. Albany's power play started out hot, converting on 4 of 11 through the first two games, but it finished 0-for-10 in the last two, including an 0-for-6 outing Friday.
Before the period was out, Albert added his first goal of the playoffs. He drove in on the right side, shot, then stayed with the play to hustle across the slot for the rebound and buried it on the second attempt.
Albany hockey fans will likely remember Gordon’s exploits in 2010, the last time Albany had a playoff team. Gordon was playing for the Hershey Bears, the second-round opponent of the Albany River Rats. In both of the first two games, he had two goals and an assist. He added a goal and an assist in the third game to total five goals and three assists in a four-game sweep.
Entering Friday’s Game 4, Gordon, Albert and their linemate Jaffray had an assist apiece, but had been kept out of the net by Kinkaid.
In the regular season, Jaffray led the IceCaps in scoring with 18 goals and 41 assists for 59 points, along with a plus-13. Gordon was second with 57 points, 23 goals and 34 assists. Albert led the team in goals with 28 and added 17 assists.
Despite allowing the four goals Friday, Kinkaid had an excellent series. He finished with a 2.26 GAA and .932 save percentage.
Hutchinson, though, was on his game, especially Friday. The Devils had left the arena Wednesday feeling they had not made him work quite as hard as he should for the shutout. Friday, they went to work putting shots on frame and looking for those dirty goals, looking for rebound chances, looking for any good bounce they could get.
He didn’t oblige them.
“I think he played well, maybe, certainly, his best game, rebound-control wise,” Kowalsky said.
Kowalsky said he thought the Devils might have surprised the IceCaps a bit in the series.
“To be honest, and no disrespect to them, I think we surprised them,” he said. “I think they might have taken us for granted. We had the 4-2 win, then there’s obviously this one, kind of a write-off. The other two games, you’re looking at a 2-1 game and a 1-0 game. Not a lot of five-on-five goals. From my standpoint, other than tonight, a lot of their goals were a result of maybe breaks on their behalf or mistakes we made. I give them credit. [St. John’s coach] Keith McCambridge has done a good job here, they’ve got a good team, but tonight was probably the best game we’ve seen from them. Certainly, looking back at this as a coach, I think this series absolutely could have gone to five games and gone in our favor.”
Sestito said the IceCaps may have the tools to go deep in the postseason, but felt the Devils had those tools, too.
“They’re very sound,” he said. “They posed a lot of problems with their rushes. Their D get up the ice. They’ve got some goal-scorers. It’s a little frustrating for us, because we thought we matched up well with them. We just weren’t able to put enough pucks in the net throughout the series.”
The positives that nobody wants to talk about include the fact the Devils made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when they were the Lowell Devils. That also was the last time Albany had a playoff team, its last season with the Carolina-affiliated River Rats.
Also, the Devils won 24 home games, giving the fans a little more to cheer about this season. They finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with 93 points and saw promising development among their young prospects.
“This is game 77, 78, 79 and 80. These are the ones that are fresh in your minds, but there were a lot of things accomplished this year that were positive,” Kowalsky said. “It’s kind of hard to get them to understand that or accept that now, but this team, individually and as a group, more importantly, did a lot of good things — 93 points is a big number. We had to do it under pressure, which we haven’t been able to do in the past. When all the dust settles here, there’s a lot of us in this organization who have a lot to be proud of and can hold our heads high. The other message was, ‘Now you know. Now you know what it takes to get in, never mind what it takes to play playoff hockey.’ I talked about us growing as a group each game, and I told them to make sure they take some time to reflect and think about what we’ve been through here, and to grow from it.”
“It’s a great experience for everybody, young guys through the veterans,” Sestito said. “It shows how much you’ve got to up your game a little bit more and bear down. It’s tough just getting into the playoffs, and we weren’t satisfied with just getting in. We expected to do some damage. So definitely, it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s a good experience for everybody involved, but coming in next year, hopefully we use this as motivation, and I’m sure everybody will, to get better and have more success in the playoffs.
“It’ll take a little bit of time for us to be able to look back, but it was a great group of guys. I think we realized that right from the beginning. We had great chemistry. Nothing against teams in the past, but this was a really fun team to be a part of. We got contributions from all parts of the lineup, young guys and older. I thought we went on a great run throughout the year, and to get into the playoffs was a pretty big achievement, especially after not being there for a while. It’ll take a little while to feel good about it right now, because there’s more pain than pride for making the playoffs. It’s painful to lose, so I think, given some time, guys will look back and have some pride for the season we put on.”