By Pat Payton
The magic number for St. Marys Lincolns now appears to be three points.
After skating to a 3-1 victory over Sarnia Legionnaires last Friday night at the PRC, Lincs need just a couple more wins to clinch third place in the Western Conference. On the same night in St. Thomas, fourth-place LaSalle Vipers lost 2-1 to the last-place Stars.
After weekend action, St. Marys (26-12-3-4) sits nine points ahead of LaSalle (22-16-1-5) and 12 ahead of the fifth-place Chatham Maroons (19-16-1-8).
Lincolns, with just five regular-season games remaining, travel to Leamington this Thursday to meet the second-place Flyers at 7:10 p.m. Lincs then host LaSalle on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and a victory over the Vipers will almost certainly wrap up third spot. Sarnia comes to town again on Monday, Feb. 17. The Family Day contest begins at 1:30 p.m.
Lincolns 3 – Legionnaires 1
At the PRC last Friday, Lincolns needed a late third-period powerplay goal before finally clinching the win over the eighth-place Legionnaires in front of about 400 spectators. Strong goaltending by Kyle Curtin and solid penalty-killing were other key factors in the win.
Lincs got off to a good start, grabbing a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by player-of-the-game Justin McIntyre and Jake Robinson. Curtin was sharp in the middle frame as Sarnia pushed to get back in the game. The visitors had a number of quality chances, but couldn’t get a puck behind the St. Marys netminder.
However, just 28 seconds into the third, Legionnaires closed the gap to 2-1 on a goal by defenceman Ben Schoch. With about eight minutes remaining, Sarnia had a lengthy 5-on-3 powerplay, but Lincolns weathered the storm with air-tight penalty-killing.
“Our PK has been good all year,” coach Trent McClement said. “Definitely, killing that 5-on-3 was huge. It gave us a little momentum.”
Finally with just under five minutes to play, a powerplay goal by Ryan Burke (his ninth) gave Lincs a little breathing room again. Nathan Small earned his second assist of the night on the insurance goal. With just over two minutes remaining, Curtin denied Legionnaires’ centre Nolan DeGurse on a shorthanded breakaway. It was the second time in the game that Sarnia’s leading scorer broke in alone and failed to beat the Lincolns’ goalie.
Lincs now lead the season series between the two teams, 3-2. Legionnaires slipped to 15-25-1-3 with the loss.
Lincolns 6 – Vipers 4
At the Vollmer Sports Complex last Wednesday, Lincolns pulled nine points ahead of the fourth-place Vipers with a gritty 6-4 victory–their first win in LaSalle this season.
Playing on the road for the second consecutive night, Lincs made the long trip with just 14 skaters and two goalies. It was probably Lincolns’ biggest win to date this season.
“We went down there with the mindset knowing we were short bodies,” coach McClement said. “We played a different style; we trapped as much as we could to save energy. LaSalle is an offensive team and they like to have speed going through the neutral zone. We took that away from them, and they seemed a little lost.
“It was a good character win for sure. We were shortstaffed, but the boys were all going. It was obviously a huge win, something that will bring the team closer together.”
Thomas McLatchie (his 14th), Kyle Kuznik, Ryan Burke, Jacob Bloomfield, Mason Mantzavrakos and Joe Mazur scored for St. Marys, with Justin McIntyre chipping in two assists. Evan Ferguson and Spencer Paradis each scored twice for the Vipers.
After the teams were tied 2-2 after the first period, second-period goals by Burke and Bloomfield gave Lincs the lead for good. Mantzavrakos’s 21st goal of the season–with just 1:27 remaining in the third–put the visitors up 5-3. However, Paradis scored just 13 seconds later to leave LaSalle trailing by just a goal. Mazur clinched the win with an empty-netter with 21 seconds left on the clock.
Overall, Vipers out-shot the Lincolns 27-24. Cy Martin made 23 saves for the net win. It was a tame affair with only four minor penalties called.
Lincs now lead the season series between the two teams, 3-2.
Rockets 3 – Lincolns 1
In a rescheduled game last Tuesday in Strathroy, Toby Rizzo’s goal with just 1:57 remaining to play snapped a 1-1 tie and proved to be the game winner in a 3-1 Rockets’ victory over the Lincolns.
“We had a chance to clear it, but it hopped over our stick and went to their point man,” coach McClement explained. “He got a shot through and the rebound bounced to their guy and he put it under Curtin.” Ian Babenko added an empty-netter with 31 seconds left on the clock.
The teams traded second-period goals, with defenceman Riley Coome (his sixth) scoring for Lincs and Brandon Sanders for the Rockets just over four minutes later. It left the teams deadlocked 1-1 going into the final 20 minutes.
St. Marys out-shot Strathroy 41-33, including 16-11 in the third.
Lincolns now have a record of 1-3-1 against the sixth-place Rockets. The teams had not played each other since Nov. 8 — a stretch of almost three months.
“We had our chances tonight,” McClement noted. “We had a 5-on-3 powerplay, and (Cayse) Ton hit two posts in the second. He had another nice chance in the third, too.
“We played a good road game, but we’re going to have to change a couple of things in their rink. Right now, it looks like we could play Strathroy in the playoffs and they play well in their rink. We’ve beat them once, but it’s the third time that they’ve beat us.
“We were missing some guys tonight, but I don’t use that as an excuse. It was a hard-fought game, and at the end of the day they buried one late. We just have to learn from this game, and adjust a couple of things,” he added.