Wow! What a comeback! What a game! It had all the ingredients of what playoff hockey is all about: great goaltending, numerous scoring chances, a vocal crowd and a thrilling finish.
Michael Merulla’s goal with 6:42 into the third period lifted the Rebels to a 3 – 2 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. It was the team’s third goal in 2:19 minutes which allowed them to take a 2 – 0 lead in the division semi-final series.
The Knights’ head coach Tom Kowal wanted to change things up for his team and started Andrey Svistunov between the pipes, although Grant Valentine played well the previous game. Svistunov looked like the second coming of Vladislav Tretiak and his teammates fed off of it. Just 3:20 into the first period, the Knights’ Jacob Hamacher and Braden Brown set up Blake Busch whose long side shot beat Rebels goalie Darion Hanson to give the visitors a 1 – 0 lead.
The Rebels had their chances during the opening period but none more so than the opportunity Ryan Cusin had. After Kristofers Bindulis intercepted a Knights’ pass, he entered the offensive zone and sent a long, cross-ice pass to Cusin. Cusin had a wide open net but as he shot the puck, Svistunov dove across the crease and made a spectacular paddle save to keep the Knights up by one.
With time winding down in the first, the Rebels committed a turnover which the Knights capitalized on when Carson Knop and Paul Maust set up Dorian Dawson who put the puck past Hanson with 1:13 left in the opening period.
The Rebels came out smoking in the second. They applied pressure but Svistunov was there to thwart their chances, which included a nice breakaway save on Bindulis. Svistunov made another spectacular save but this time from the point. Brennan Kapcheck took a blast from the blue line but Svistunov made a split, glove save to keep the Knights up by two going into the third. Svistunov stopped all 14 shots he faced during the middle stanza.
With the way Svistunov was playing, you had to wonder if the Rebels had a chance to come back, considering they hit the post one in the first period and twice in the second period.
The third period began and the Knights started to apply pressure. After a nice pad save Hanson made on Paul Maust, the Rebels were finally able to get some penetration against Svistunov. Evgeny Yakovlev entered the Knights zone and passed it Frank Spellman. The former Shattuck Saint Mary’s product passed it back to Bindulis took a shot that beat Svistunov with 4:23 into the third to put the Rebels on the board.
The goal woke up the team and the crowd who started chanting loudly “Let’s Go Rebels.”
After the ensuing faceoff was won by Drew Blackmun, Kapcheck head manned the puck to Eric Carreras who light the lamp to tie the game twelve seconds later.
Two minutes later, Kapcheck brought the puck into the Knights zone. He passed it down low to Cusin, who found Merulla behind the Knights defense and fed him with a perfectly sewn back-door pass and Merulla beat Svistunov to give the Rebels a 3 – 2 lead with 13:18 left in the game.
With still over half the third period left, both teams had their chances but Hanson and Svistunov made key saves to keep the game tight. Finally, the siren sounded with the Rebels and fans jubilant.
Svistunov had 30 saves on 33 shots while Hanson stopped 19 of 21 shots. Click here for the box score.
The series resumes next weekend at the Revolution Ice Centre. The Rebels need one more victory to advance to the divisional finals.