Rebels rally in third period to take series
When the story is written about the Knights 2016-17 season, progress will be a prominent theme. Despite an unfavorable outcome, the same could be said about last night’s competition against the Rebels. In their 15th meeting of the year, the Knights had one of their best starts against their East Division foe.
After going 0-8 to start the playoffs on the power play, the Knights received an early boost when Paul Maust redirected a point shot from Joey Verkerke at 8:43. A period that was largely even in that neither team found much rhythm to their offense, the Knights goal allowed them to keep pace with Aston’s speed.
The Rebels finally found an answer late in the first period. Dustin Manz ripped a shot from the top of the offensive zone that bested Grant Valentine over his right shoulder.
To start the second period, the Knights would quickly find themselves on the power play again and kept their hot streak alive. Joe Schuler tipped home a point shot from Paul Cimilluca at 2:09, making their man advantage unit a perfect 2-for-2.
The goal ignited the Knights attack to a level unprecedented against the Rebels. Their attack pushed Aston’s normally stout defense into making errors in their own end. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forwards were aggressive on the boards and in front of the net as they began hemming the Rebels in for consecutive shifts. Mike Gelatt capitalized at 8:19 when he tipped another Paul Cimilluca point shot past Mitens, chasing the goalie midway through the second.
The onslaught continued but Aston backup netminder Jack Leavy kept the Knights off the board for the rest of the period. In the last few shifts before the second intermission, Aston finally pushed back. At 19:19, Drew Blackmun ripped a rebound past Valentine to bring the Rebels back within one.
The Knights would race out of the gate in the third period forcing yet another Aston penalty and parallel to their second period start, Paul Cimilluca fired a point shot through traffic where fellow defenseman Tim Gelatt tipped the puck home. A 4-2 lead appeared to have the Knights in the driver seat. The Rebels had other intentions.
At 6:56, Gianluca Esteves turned a loose puck in neutral ice into a 2-on-1 rush with Evgeny Yakovlev. A cross-ice pass from the former to the latter moved the Rebels back within one. On the fourth power play of the night for the Rebels, Gvido Jansons ripped a rocket past Valentine at 10:59 to tie the game at 4.
Their foot on the gas pedal, the Rebels didn’t relent. Jansons struck again at 14:34 to give his team a 5-4 lead. A minute later, on their fifth power play, the Rebels tallied goal number four of the period when Jansons buried a hat trick to build a 6-4 advantage.
The Knights would not let their season end quietly. On their fifth opportunity on the man advantage with Valentine pulled for the extra attacker, Mike Gelatt scored power play goal number four with under two minutes to go.
With the net empty again, the Knights came within inches of putting the puck past a falling Jack Leavy, but the big goalie sat on top of the puck to keep the score 6-5. On the next shift, Brennan Kapcheck found the puck and flipped it down the length of the ice for an empty-net goal.
The score put an end to a wild night of momentum swings and with it the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton season.
Though the it ended earlier than they wanted, the Knights can hang their hat on a hard-fought season of improvement.