Fresh off their first NAHL playoff series win, the Knights went to Aston, Pennsylvania Friday with their sights set on another challenge: beat an old nemesis. The Philadelphia Rebels have met the Knights in the postseason for each of the last three seasons. The Rebels were 6-0 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the playoffs before puck drop Thursday night. They won this year’s regular season tilt 8-4. For the Knights to achieve their goal in toppling the two-time East division finalists, game one was a pivotal chance to set the early tempo for the best-of-five series.
The game began as a one-sided affair and it was the Knights who seized total control. Following a brief stretch of zone-trading, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton offense started to dig in. Once situated, they peppered Philadelphia starting goalie Ryan Keane with 16 shots in the opening frame.
On wall scrum just prior to the four minute mark of the first, Lincoln Hatten dug a puck free and flipped it back to Joey Verkerke on the left point. On his off-wing, Verkerke let go a side-winder that caromed off the back boards to the net front for a waiting Curtis Carlson. Carlson has great speed, but one of the traits that makes him special is his agility to use his quickness in close quarters. Corralling the loose puck, Carlson dragged Keane out of the net before curling the puck around him and burying for the game’s first goal.
With a 1-0 lead, the Knights allowed no push back. After a series of a faceoffs in the attacking zone, Michael Morrissey won a puck to his winger Jack Olsmtead. Olmstead kicked the puck up to the right point for Thomas Farrell. Farrell let go an elevated shot that beat Keane through a Matt Kidney screen to put the Knights up 2-0 in the game’s first eight minutes.
The Rebels would spend much of the first period attempting to contain the Knights blistering forecheck and speed off the rush. They tested Knights starter Christian Stoever with just two first-period shots. In the final minutes of the opening frame, the Rebels were able to create a few quality scoring chances that missed the net by mere inches, but were held scoreless through the first.
In the second, play picked up for Philadelphia, as they were able to create a few more quality chances, but time and again they were stymied by Stoever and a quick Knights blue line. As Wilkes-Barre/Scranton weathered the initial push from Philadelphia, they returned to their siege of the offensive zone.
Just under 12:30 into the middle period, the Rebels tried an outlet pass up their right wing. Michael Morrissey jumped in front of short pass at the blue line and deftly poked it back over to the just onside Jack Olmstead. Olmstead deked a back checking Rebel to the top of the slot, where he somehow found a crashing Matt Kidney behind the defense. Kidney ripped a shot under the crossbar to give the Knight a 3-0 lead. The tally chased Ryan Keane and brought on Eli Billing.
Billing came on cold but performed well, facing seven shots in the final minutes of the second period. It wasn’t until the Knights moved to the game’s first power play that Billing was beaten. With just six seconds remaining in their man-advantage, Luke Robinson fired a point pass to Blake Kryska who hammered a shot toward the slot. The puck never made it through to the net, instead bouncing off a Rebels skater in front and into the lap of Reed Robinson. Robinson immediately let go a shot from the slot that rippled the twine, putting his team up 4-0 at the end of two periods of play.
In the third, The Knights hunkered down to protect their advantage. The Rebels responded with 12 shots on Christian Stoever (25 saves). He stopped 11, before the Rebels finally found a crack.
After a scoreless first half to the period, Eric Olson carried a puck into the attacking zone, bowling over a Knights defender in the process. Olson’s pass to the corner was initially grabbed by the Knights, but was turned over to Ryan Patrick in the opposite corner. Through a check, Patrick slid a perfect centering pass to the open Olson in front of the net. The Calgary-native didn’t miss the opportunity and spoiled Stoever’s shutout with under nine minutes to play.
The rest of the competition failed to yield a goal, as the Knights skated away with a definitive game-one win. The team will return to Aston Saturday night at 7:05 PM EDT for game two. That game will be available on hockeytv.com. Follow Knights social media, www.wbsknights.com, and nahl.com for all news and updates!