By Pat Payton
STRATHROY – Fifty-eight saves and 120 shutout minutes.
That’s what goalie Kyle Curtin gave St. Marys Lincolns in the first two games of their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final playoff series with Strathroy Rockets.
Forty-one stops by Curtin here Saturday night at West Middlesex Memorial Arena sparked the Lincs to a 4-0 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
“Curty’s been there for us all year,” coach Trent McClement said. “I honestly believe his game has gone to another level in these last two games. He was making saves (Saturday) night that he had no reason to make. The way Curty has been playing, it’s unbelievable.”
Game 3 was Tuesday of this week in St. Marys, with Game 4 Wednesday back in Strathroy. If necessary, Game 5 is Friday at the PRC at 7:30 p.m. Again if necessary, Game 6 is Saturday in Strathroy at 7:30 p.m.
Lincolns 4 – Rockets 0
In Strathroy Saturday night, Lincolns took control by scoring three times before the game was six minutes old. The marksmen were Ryan Burke, Thomas McLatchie and Kyle Kuznik, and the 3-0 lead allowed the Lincs to concentrate on defence and shut down the Rockets.
“We knew that Strathroy would be desperate,” coach McClement said. “Even though they were only down 1-0 in the series, you don’t want to lose any game at home, so the pressure was on them.
“We knew for the first 10 minutes, we were going to get the best that they had. We knew they were going to come out hard. Once we got the quick lead, we just wanted to shut them down after that.”
Strathroy tried to get back in the contest in the second period, out-shooting St. Marys 17-7. However, the home team could not get a puck past Curtin, who made some unbelievable saves.
“We kind of let up in the second period and took some bad penalties,” McClement said. “We don’t have a lot of playoff experience, so those kinds of things can happen. Some teams aren’t used to getting those big leads early. It’s a long time to hold a lead.”
Brock Trichlo added another insurance goal at 11:07 of the third to complete the scoring. It was Trichlo’s second point of the game.
Ten different players picked up at least one point for the Lincolns, who also beat goalie Josh Diamond for a second straight night. Diamond gave Lincs trouble during the regular schedule, posting a 2-2-1 record against St. Marys.
Overall, Rockets out-shot the Lincolns 41-37.
Lincolns 2 – Rockets 0
In the series opener Friday night at the PRC, Kyle Curtin made 17 saves in a tight-checking 2-0 victory over the Rockets in front of approximately 500 spectators. Curtin was named Lincolns’ player-of-the-game.
“Playoff games are always going to be low-scoring and tight-checking,” coach McClement said. “It’s a game of mistakes, and I didn’t think we made too many mistakes tonight. But I thought we could have created a few more chances offensively.
“For a team with limited playoff experience, it was good to get through that first game with the win. In the playoffs, you have to take care of home ice and we did that tonight. Now, everybody can be a little more comfortable going into the second game.”
Strathroy had an early first-period powerplay goal waved off when the officials ruled that the St. Marys net was off its moorings.
Finally, after 38 minutes of scoreless hockey, Justin McIntyre fired what proved to be the game winner at 18:08 of the second period. After Joe Mazur forced a neutral-zone turnover, McIntyre broke in alone and snapped a high wrist shot past Josh Diamond.
The third period was strictly a defensive battle, with Lincs giving the Rockets few chances. The visitors held a 5-4 edge in shots in the final 20 minutes. With 1:52 remaining, Strathroy pulled Diamond for an extra attacker and Thomas McLatchie just missed the empty net.
With Diamond back in the net, Cayse Ton sealed the win with 1:06 left on the clock. The Lincolns’ captain fired a howitzer past the diminutive goalie from deep in the slot. Mazur and Kyle Kuznik drew assists.
“In the third when you’re up by one in the playoffs, you just want to get pucks deep,” McClement noted. “You just take the (scoring) opportunities when they come. I thought we did a good job of shutting Strathroy down in the third. We didn’t give them any huge chances.”
Final shots were 34-17 in favour of St. Marys, including 30-12 over the first two periods.
Rockets’ coach Jason Furlong says the team that makes the fewest mistakes will be the one that is successful in the series.
“On St. Marys’ first goal tonight, it was kind of a tough play with the bouncing puck,” Furlong told the Independent. “But that’s the way playoffs are, one mistake or one bad bounce. Everybody battled hard tonight; I thought it was a good hockey game.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring, tight-checking series, based on the season series between the two teams,” he added. “It’s just a matter of eliminating mistakes. Structurally, we have to be sound. There’s definitely no panic in our room; we’re pretty focused on the task at hand. It’s a long series and you have to have a short memory and move forward.”
Other quarter-final series
London Nationals completed a four-game sweep of the Legionnaires with a penalty-filled 4-1 victory in Sarnia Sunday night. The teams combined for over 200 penalty minutes.
After weekend action, Leamington Flyers have a commanding 3-0 series lead on Komoka Kings, while the surprising Chatham Maroons have a 3-1 series lead on LaSalle Vipers.