The playoffs in any league can be a funny place. You’ve played all season to earn a spot, and if you’re the New Jersey Hitmen, you’ve won and won and won some more to solidify first place overall and home ice throughout.
But then it comes down to two - two - games that can either propel you forward or put the halt on an otherwise amazing season. The latter happened to the Hitmen, as the Northern Cyclones traveled south to New Jersey and took care of business in short order.
The Cyclones’ 2-1 win on Saturday sealed a 2-0 series win and a spot in the semifinals. They will have to await the results of the Junior Bruins vs. Boston Bandits series to see where they will play next, as will the two other teams that advanced.
The Islanders Hockey Club won their second one-goal game over the New Hampshire Monarchs in this postseason to secure their semifinals spot and keep their Dineen Cup defense campaign going.
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers came back from being down 1-0 after two periods to win 3-2 and make it into the semifinals. The Junior Bruins got their playoff series underway Saturday and left no doubt as to whose house it was, winning 6-0 on their home ice, the New England Sports Center.
Cyclones 2, Hitmen 1
Artyom Borshyov started the party at the 14:22 mark of the first period to put the Cyclones on top 1-0 off a slapshot from the high left point. Cade DeStefani and Michael Mackenzie earned assists off very adept long passes to set up the Quinnipiac recruit Borshyov.
A Sutton shot from the right faceoff circle went in off Mackenzie’s skate for the eventual game-winner at the 8:02 mark of the second.
Riley Sims made 80 saves in the two games against the Hitmen - 39 in Game 1 and 41 in Game 2 - as the Hitmen kept pounding away, but the ‘00 from Edmonton was more than equal to the task. It took 20 players pulling on the same end of the rope, however, to defeat a Hitmen team that lost only nine total times (seven regulation, two OTL) in the regular season.
“It was a full team effort, the boys worked hard all week to prepare,” said head coach Bill Flanagan from the bus back to Hudson, N.H. “I am proud of this group for buying in and coming together at the right time.”
The Hitmen didn’t leave fully empty-handed, as Casey Rhodes sent home a loose puck that came dribbling across the crease after a Jericho Petkovich shot from low in the right faceoff circle. The Hitmen threw more than 20 more shots on net after that, but Sims kept up his end of the bargain and the Cyclones got the momentous win.
Islanders 3, Monarchs 2
After Joe Mancuso took the puck away behind the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs’ net, he was able to send it out to the front of the net, where Hunter McCoy came streaming in for the quick shot. This goal, with 2:37 remaining, ended up as the game-and series-winning goal for the Islanders Hockey Club, who won the game 3-2 and the series 2-0.
The Islanders defeated the New Jersey Hitmen two games to one for the 2018 Dineen Cup last spring.
It was the Monarchs, however, who had the early lead to start the contest. Mitchell Shaheen brought it into the zone and then swooped along the goal line to the front. The puck was dislodged there from Shaheen - right onto the stick of Wil Crane for the opening goal at 9:04.
Mancuso wristed in a rebound for the Islanders Hockey Club’s first goal on the power play. McCoy’s second of the playoffs and first of the game came at 10:23. Mancuso had the opportunity to score just like he had on his first, but instead slid it across to high slot for McCoy’s one-time goal.
Rangers 3, Stars 2
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers should feel fortunate to escape this series with a 3-2 win and 2-0 series victory.
After all, after two periods, it was the Stars - in their last-ever game as the Syracuse Stars, before they become the Utica Jr. Comets next year - that held the 1-0 lead.
The first goal was a pretty one, as Dylan Rallis and Mathieu Gervais, in what would turn out to be their final junior games, went 2-on-1 into the Rangers’ zone. Rallis made it to the goal line, where he executed a spin-o-rama one-timer pass to Gervais for the opening goal. That goal stood up through 40 minutes, despite the Rangers outshooting Syracuse 28-15 in those two periods.
On a perfectly executed breakout in the third period, Samuel Timonen (son of former NHLer Kimmo Timonen) knocked in a pass into the crease from Benjamin Kuzma. That started the Rangers comeback.
Colin Slyne scored off a point shot at the 5:27 mark, but it was not until 19:12 of the third when you had the ultra-rare empty net game-winning goal. Philip Ekberg sent it 200 feet for the riches, but that didn’t stand up as the GWG until the 19:41 mark, when Kabore Dunn shot in a wrister from one knee, a 6-on-5 goal. Nineteen seconds was just not enough time to get one more, though, and Syracuse’s game, season and existence as the Stars came to an end. The Rangers will move on to host their semifinal round against an opponent to be determined.
Junior Bruins 6, Boston Bandits 0
It took the Junior Bruins 12 shots to get their offensive show rolling, but once they were in drive they were not about to stop for anyone.
The Junior Bruins got six goals from six different players, and it was all started by Jonny Mulera’s opener at the 18:19 mark of the first. The second period was also relatively quiet, save for Luke Rowe’s goal at 14:40. The Junior Bruins didn’t really break this one open until late in the third. They scored their last three goals in the space of 3:29, the last going in just before the one minute remaining mark of the third period.
Jamie Armstrong, Matt Allen, Riley Prattson and Ryan Lovett joined the scoring party in the third to close out Game 1 in the Junior Bruins’ favor.
"That's really huge for us. Coming off last weekend, we needed to play hard today," said Mulera. "We just did the little things, that's what Coach [Mike Anderson] always tells us to do. All of us really just bought in. It's playoff time, so we need that."
Game 2 faceoff is at 2:50 p.m. at New England Sports Center - see it there live or at USPHL.HockeyTV.com.