With 12 games to go in the Eastern Hockey League’s regular season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights showed once again why they may be one of the dark horses come playoff time this March. Despite having fewer wins and points in the standings, the Knights managed to beat the Boston Jr. Rangers and the defending EHL champion-New Hampshire Avalanche in front of all the college scouts at the fourth and final Showcase Series of the season in Walpole, Ma.
Both games were nail biters, with Wilkes-Barre taking a 2-1 decision in each. Goaltender Thomas Walker stood on his head, making 51 saves on 53 shots across both contests.
On Sunday, it was the defending EHL Frozen Finals Champions playing the Knights. The New Hampshire Avalanche entered play with the second most points of any team in the league. The Avs had plenty of chances in the first half, outshooting the Knights 10-3 and having three power plays, but Walker was able to keep it scoreless through 25 minutes.
In the second half, the Knights caught a break early, as Matt Bielinski notched his sixth of the year on a power play 2:35 in. Wiggle Kerbrat would strike back for New Hampshire moments later, but a gaffe from Avalanche goalie Peter Siolas led to the game winner. Liam Oatman rushed down the right wing and took a shot from the goal line that Siolas didn’t track, leaving it in front of his pads and unaware that the puck was still loose. Knights forward Osmundas Balciunaitis crashed the net to clean up the garbage, scoring what would be the game winner with less than five minutes to play.
On early Monday morning, it was the Boston Jr. Rangers that would oppose Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Scoring didn’t take as long this time, thanks to Chatham University commitment Matt Mood who pounced out in front of the net 2:15 into the first.
Knights newcomer Michael Walsh would score the game winner, and his first as a Knight with seven seconds to go in the first. After his initial shot was blocked, the new Knights defenseman got the puck back and unloaded it into the corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead. The Jr. Rangers would score in the second, but the Knights blue liners limited the opposition to just 10 shots in the final 25 minutes to seal the deal with a 2-1 for their final Showcase game of the season. Through four Showcase events, Wilkes-Barre finished with a record of 6-2 in the 2018-19 EHL campaign.
The Knights enter the final dozen games of the regular season 17-12-3, trailing division rival New Jersey by nine points. While taking the Mid-Atlantic Conference’s North Division title from the 87’s may be a tall task, head coach Josh Fusco should be able to take comfort in the odds of Wilkes-Barre making it to the postseason, regardless of seeding. Six of the eight teams in the Mid-Atlantic Conference will make the 2019 EHL playoffs. With the Knights sitting at 37 points, they are a whopping 22 points ahead of the first team outside a playoff spot, being Team Maryland.
Maryland has 14 games remaining compared to the Knights 12. The magic number for Wilkes-Barre is six points. Any combination of points lost by Team Maryland and/or points gained by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that equals six or greater will officially clinch a playoff berth for the EHL club. The Knights can secure a spot as soon as this weekend. While they battle the New York Apple Core Thursday and Sunday, Team Maryland will engage with the Walpole Express on Friday and Saturday. If the Knights win Thursday and Maryland drops both of their games, Wilkes-Barre will enter Sunday afternoon against the Apple Core as a guaranteed playoff team.