Round two of three saw Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head back to the New England Sports Village to take a second try at besting the Northeast Generals. Coming off a 3-1 loss the night prior, the Knights were in search of a spark to stay ahead of a Northeast team just two points behind them in the NAHL’s East division. They would have to do so shorthanded as a plague of injuries have ravaged the Knights blue line of late, the most recent leaving the team to dress only four defensemen on Saturday. Even with an extra forward in Tyler Nielsen suited up for the game, the team could only field 17 skaters.
Adjustments started from the net out for both sides, as David Tomeo and Marko Sturma took the places of Christian Stoever and David Fessenden from the night before. The pair were lights out from the opening puck drop. A sleepy start saw just 11 shots on goal combined through the opening 20 minutes of play.
The second period brought with it a different tone. Both forechecks awoke, as the combined shot total nearly tripled, rising from 11 to 40 after 40 minutes. In between the horns in the second, Sturma and Tomeo both answered the uptick in shots perfectly. Neither netminder allowed a goal, while both offenses, though active, struggled to stand on pucks for extended shifts in the attacking zone.
Most impressive for the Knights in the frame was their ability to negate penalties despite being so affected by injury. The Generals were held 0-3 in the period on the man-advantage (with one that largely took place at the end of the first, bridging 12 seconds into the second). Northeast put on a late surge that very nearly resulted in their first goal, but they were again kept at bay by Tomeo.
In the third, the dam finally broke. At 8:45, Matt Demelis fired down the right wing, and under duress, tucked a puck in between Tomeo and the far post, breaking the scoring drought of nearly 50 minutes. Pat Harrington collected the lone assist on the tally.
The Knights response came just under two minutes later. Joey Verkerke wrapped a puck in deep from neutral ice. The spinning biscuit found its way to Reed Robinson in the corner. His attempted pass to Curtis Carlson behind the net kicked off the back of a Generals skate, pin-balling perfectly to an open Tyler Nielsen. From the left side of the slot, the Knights affiliate forward ripped his first NAHL goal past Sturma to even the game at one.
The standings neighbors engaged in transitional warfare up and down the ice for the remainder of regulation. Tomeo blanked a streaking breakaway for the Generals while Sturma stoned Kidney on one for the Knights. The teams almost looked surprised to hear the horn sound on the third as the Generals even finished a check through the whistle.
In three-on-three overtime, both teams were quick to create, with Northeast pushing a 2-on-1 rush at Tomeo in the first two minutes. They were thwarted by a diving Verkerke in front, allowing his goalie to quickly collect and clear the loose puck down the ice.
On a seemingly innocent Northeast turnover in front of the Knights net, Curtis Carlson looped wide and shot up the sheet. Despite being 63 minutes into a contest in which his team was short a skater, Carlson erupted through every zone beating all three Generals back to the net. On in his way in, Carlson executed a quick lift and drift in front, pulling Sturma forward onto his stomach, allowing the Knights captain the space to put home the back-handed dagger.
The win was among the grittiest of the Knights season, and their two points to the Generals one moves Wilkes-Barre/Scranton into a three-point lead for the third seed in the East. Tomorrow’s rubber match at the New England Sports Village will take place at 12:00 PM EST. Tune in on www.hockeytv.com and stay tuned to Knights social media for updates!