An afternoon of firsts help Knights to 28th victory
Coming off a 10-day break, the final road game of the Knights regular season was an important dress rehearsal for a team bound for the playoffs in under two weeks’ time. With a mixed road trip to Alaska behind them, the Knights next opponent on tap was hardly one to overlook.
Despite their record, the Northeast Generals have proven throughout the 2016-17 season to be a tricky matchup for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In prior action, the Knights are the only team the expansion Generals have bested twice this season and saw a number of their meetings go right down to the wire. Even more recently, Northeast recorded an impressive east division victory with a 3-2 win over an impressive Johnstown Tomahawks team on March 31st.
A common denominator for the Generals in the challenges they’ve presented the Knights was netminder David Fessenden. Entering Tuesday’s game, the Denver, Colorado-native had played the Knights five times (the first coming with the Minnesota Magicians) recording a 2-2-0 record, with a sterling 0.98 GAA and a .972 save percentage. Never once had the big 6’6” goalie allowed more than one goal in a game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
With the table set for their final meeting of the year, things got off to a slower start than both the Knights and Generals forecheck’s would have cared for. Making his first NAHL start, Knights goalie Liam Murray went toe-to-toe with Fessenden in the opening stanza, holding the Generals scoreless on eight shots. Fessenden was perfect through 18 minutes before Matt Kidney scored the game’s first tally on crisp passing from Curtis Carlson and Sam Antonitsch.
The second period began with the Knights pressing to build off their momentum gained at the end of the first. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful on a power play that bridged the first and second periods, they began to build their supply of chances around Fessenden’s residence. They were rewarded at 2:58 when Paul Cimilluca scored his third goal of the year (Latimer, Robinson).
The Generals did not fold in the face of mounting chances against, and as the period progressed they began mounting a slew of their own, including a number of 2-on-1 rushes. Finally, at the 11:11 mark, Northeast broke their drought when with the help of Justin Jallen and Christian Thomas, Joe Vingi beat Murray for his first goal of the year.
With the lead trimmed back to one, the Knights pushed back with a tally of their own when Reed Robinson and Jake Fuss set up Vince Marino at 15:06. The secondary helper was Fuss’ first NAHL point, scored in his third game as an affiliate player with the Knights after leading the organization’s NA3AHL team with 65 goals, 64 assists and 129 points in 33 games played this year. The Generals would counter with Anthony Mangano’s sixth goal of the season (Weinstein, Bilek) to close out the period and again trim the lead back to one.
With what appeared to be yet another close finish building heading into the third, the Knights returned to the ice with renewed resolve. Markuss Komuls walked the puck down from the blue line and ripped a wrister past Fessenden to kick off scoring in the stanza at 3:26 (Morrissey, Danchenko). Fed by Joe Schuler and Tim Gelatt, Jimmy Elser fueled a buzzing Knights attack at 5:52 by flipping a back hand shot up over the big goalie to build a 5-2 advantage.
Just a minute and a half later, Matt Kidney followed up with his second tally of the game with setup coming from Cimilluca and Carlson. Tim Gelatt and Mike Morrissey continued the onslaught by feeding the puck to a waiting Jake Fuss who found his first NAHL goal on the power play at 11:37.
One power play goal and one first-NAHL goal would not prove to be enough for a hungry Wilkes-Barre/Scranton attack as Elijah Latimer would add another score for both categories at 13:02 (Mike Gelatt, Kidney) to cap off the Knights eight-goal day. Parker Swanson relieved Fessenden following the score, entering at 14:15 in the third.
The scoring would finally come to a close following Colin Bilek finding the twine for a Generals-best 18th time on the year at 15:21, set up on the power play by Anthony Mangano and Kohei Sato. As the dust from a six-goal third period settled, the Knights found themselves looking fondly up at the scoreboard and the scoresheet on their way to win number 28 on the season. At the end of the day, 15 of the 18 dressed skaters for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recorded a point, eight of whom recorded at least two. In addition to Fuss and Latimer earning their first goals (and Fuss his first assist), Liam Murray made 21 of 24 saves on his way to his first NAHL victory.
The Knights will have little time to celebrate as they close out the regular season with a home-home series with the formidable New Jersey Titans this Friday, April 7th and Saturday April 8th at the Revolution Ice Centre. Friday will be Hawaiian Night at the rink, with Saturday acting as NAHL Billet Appreciation Night. Both games are set for 7:30 pm faceoff. All fans are invited to come out and support the Knights as they charge toward the playoffs.