Showing no signs of rust after an eight-day layoff, the Napanee Raiders’ defence continued its stingy ways, neutralizing the Uxbridge Bruins’ offense in a 3-1 Raiders win in Game 1 of the Schmalz Cup quarterfinals Tuesday night at the SPC.
Uxbridge struggled to gain any ground through the first two periods as Napanee’s blue liners held the Orr Division champions to just 10 shots with no goals in the opening two frames.
Nelson Powers put the Raiders on the board in the final seconds of the first, converting on a pass from Liam Mroueh. The goal gave the large hometown crowd a reason to cheer, as up until that point Uxbridge goalie Ryan McConkey had appeared unbeatable, turning away 16 of 17 shots in the first period alone.
Mroueh doubled Napanee’s lead at the nine- minute mark of the second with assists to Powers and Curtis Marrison. Napanee again dominated the play in the middle frame, outshooting Uxbridge 19-5.
The Bruins seemed to find their legs in the third and gave Raider goalie Nicholas Nabuurs his first real test of the game, finally scoring when Aiden Reilly notched a power-play goal at the 16:20 mark. Simon Feig and Toby Cooper picked up assists.
Uxbridge, who entered the series with a reputation for racking up penalty minutes, hurt any chances of a dramatic comeback when Stefan Palatsidis was called for interference with just under a minute left to play. The Bruins had pulled McConkey and were going with a six-on-five attack and were just starting to mount pressure before Palatsidis was called for the infraction in front of his own bench.
That left the Bruins to resort to five-on-five with no goalie in a desperate attempt to get the equalizer.
That would prove costly as Evan Foley was able to take control of the puck in his own zone, pass it up to Mroueh who flipped it into the empty cage to seal the 3-1 victory. The power-play goal was Napanee’s lone goal in seven opportunities on the man-advantage on the night. Uxbridge meanwhile went one for four on their power-play.
Napanee’s power-play unit could be key to the series, as the Bruins’ hard-hitting style of play has been known to lead to penalties called against them. They led their division with 1,179 minutes sent in the sin bin.
They’ve continued that trend in the playoffs, now having been assessed 220 penalty minutes.
McConkey took the loss with 41 saves while Nabuurs finished with 18 saves and a win.
Heading into the game the Bruins’ offense was on a roll, having scored 44 goals in their first nine playoff games. They met an equally as effective defensive unit in Napanee however, as the Raiders have allowed just eight goals through their first nine playoff games. Uxbridge by contrast has now allowed 30 goals in the post season.
The SPC wasn’t lacking for atmosphere, with over 500 fans in attendance, most pulling for the home team but a good mix of Bruins fans as well.
The series will now shift to Uxbridge on Friday night with a 7:45 p.m. puck drop. Game 3 will be back in Napanee on Sunday night starting at 7:30 p.m.
Uxbridge, by virtue of winning the coin flip ahead of the series, will host Game 4 and if necessary Game 5 on March 27 and March 29 respectively. Game 6 would go March 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Napanee with a winner-take-all Game 7 scheduled for April 1 in Uxbridge if it goes the distance.
Home ice has been kind to the Bruins this season, as they were 18-2-1 at the Uxbridge Arena and Recreation Centre in the regular season, though Napanee was responsible for one of those losses back on Nov. 16. Napanee has also proven to be road warriors this year, going 19-2-0-1 away from the SPC.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, there were two special presentations. Ryan Casselman was presented the Sgt. Jason Boyes Memorial Trophy as the Tod Divison’s playoff most valuable player by Boyes’ aunt Sandra Beaubien. Then, the Napanee Joyce’s Meat and Deli Atom Stars were invited to centre ice and congratulated for winning the OMHA BB championship. Stars captain Matthew Airhart dropped the ceremonial face-off.