Devils face elimination
The Albany Devils take the ice tonight in a win-or-go-home Game 4 against St. John’s.
The IceCaps seized a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five first-round Calder Cup Playoffs series with a 1-0 victory on Wednesday, outshooting the Devils, 30-14, through the first two periods.
Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid made 34 saves to keep the Devils in the game, but St. John’s goalie Michael Hutchinson was unbeaten on the 24 he faced.
“We didn’t skate like we can,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said Thursday. “We didn’t skate with the puck or take their ice, and they certainly gave it to us. The more the game went on, I think they went into a little bit of protect-the-puck mode, especially through the neutral zone, and we were able to attack with speed as the game went on. We didn’t do it enough early. Getting to the net, getting pucks to the net, then executing off the rush. We had eight to 10 odd-man rushes.”
“Taking care of executing on our opportunities. Although we did get outshot — and our goalie was outstanding — we did have opportunities to score,” Albany captain Rod Pelley said. “I felt like we may have given them a little too much. But they’re a good team, and they skate hard. Saying that, it is a little bit frustrating when you have chances, odd-man rushes, rebounds. You need to capitalize on those. It could be a different outcome, it could be a different game.”
Despite the missed opportunities and passed-up shots, Albany still had a chance Wednesday in the final minute with Kinkaid pulled for an extra attacker. Joe Whitney found a rebound in the closing seconds to the right of the goal and fired at an open net, but he missed.
Initial reactions varied. On the left side of the crease, his linemate Mike Sislo raised his hands, thinking the tying goal was somewhere nestled in the nylon netting. Then the puck smacked into the glass, somewhere, after apparently catching a piece of the pipe.
“I think it must have [hit a post],” Kowalsky said after viewing the video. “It’s still pretty tough to see, just because of the way the video’s set up. The angle he was on, he did have a little bit more time, and I talked to him after and again today, where he probably could have just settled it down. Sislo put his arms in the air. But the way it came off, they weren’t even sure if it hit the post. It might have just nicked the post. But judging by the way everyone reacted ... If he would have just missed the net, it probably would have went right out into the meshing there, but it must have nicked the post just enough to deaden it a bit before it hit the glass, because even when it came up to the top to Jon Merrill, he couldn’t find it. No one really knows, we couldn’t hear it ping, and Sislo thought it was in. Whitney’s not even sure where it went at the end of the day, but it didn’t go in.”
Albany took a short practice Thursday and skated again today. Kowalsky said Thursday he didn’t anticipate any lineup changes, but anything could happen between that moment and tonight’s game.
One certainty is the Devils will be without defenseman Dan Kelly, who is still not recovered from what has been described as soreness. He did not participate in Monday’s practice in Albany, watching instead from the stands in a red hoodie. The hoodie had a large hunch protruding from his shoulder, telling of an ice bag underneath. He practiced Thursday, but Kowalsky hesitated to call it an “active” participation.
“He is not quite recovered,” he said. “Today is the first day he has been actively — and I use that word tentatively, because we had a pretty short skate today — this is the most he was actively involved in practice.”
Some stats of note: Albany has not scored the first goal in any of the first three games of this series. During the regular season, the Devils were 31-8-1-5 when scoring the first goal. They were 9-15-4-3 when not scoring the first goal.
Albany’s specialty teams have been pretty reliable. The power play is 4-for-15, though it was 0-for-4 Wednesday. The penalty kill is 14-for-15, going 6-for-6 on Wednesday.
A win tonight would secure a deciding Game 5 on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“Our backs are against the wall. It’s an elimination game. We know where we’re at,” Pelley said. “We had a good video session [Thursday], we had a few laughs at the end to keep it light-hearted. That’s where we’re at, right now, as a group. It’s our job, together as a team, in that room to keep each other up. That’s been our mentality about it. Everyone’s not going to be cheery every day, so other guys have to notice that and pick them up.”
“Everybody’s in pretty good spirits,” Kowalsky said. “There was pretty good jump in practice [Thursday]. Being on the road, sometimes, is a good thing because everyone’s together. It’s certainly positive. The way we’re looking at it, we just have to win a hockey game here. You look at our two losses, they certainly could have gone the other way. Obviously, that doesn’t mean anything now, but if anything, we realize, as a team, going into this series, more of the talk was about them than it was about us, but we certainly feel we can beat this team.”