The Rebels defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights 3 – 2 last night behind two goals from Michael Merulla giving the team its first ever playoff victory. The win gave the Rebels a 1 – 0 lead in the Robertson Cup divisional semi-finals.
The Knights came out very strong in the first period, taking three of the games first four shots. Then with almost five minutes into the period, Rebels goalie Darion Hanson made a save on WBS’ forward Jacob Hamacher. The rebound came out to defenseman Mason Van Tuyl, who brought the puck out of the zone and head manned it to partner Ryan Solomon. Solomon took a low line blast from the top of the circle. Knights’ goalie Grant Valentine made the initial save but the rebound came out to Ryan Cusin who buried it into a wide open net giving the home team a 1 – 0 lead.
WBS continued to control the first period. With 5:50 left in the first, a Rebels broken play saw Blake Busch bring the puck up in the neutral zone and pass it Hamacher. Hamacher entered the zone on a two on one with Tim Gelatt. As the Rebels defenseman tried to force Hamacher to the outside, Hamacher made a nice cross-ice pass to Gelatt who redirected the puck through Hanson’s pads tying the game at one.
The Rebels took the lead again with 2:44 left in the first when Cusin entered the visitors’ zone and dropped the puck to Gvido Jansons. Jansons took a shot that was redirected by Merulla past Valentine for the team’s second goal. Despite scoring two goals, the Rebels were outshot during the first period 11 – 8.
The tables were turned in the second period with the Rebels controlling the play. With 5:44 into the middle period, Dom Garcia passed the puck to Cusin. Cusin found Merulla down low. Merulla beat Valentine on a wrap around to put the Rebels up 3 – 1. Valentine made some very nice saves to keep the visitors in the game. He faced 17 shots in the second.
The Knights again took control of the play in the third. After taking five shots on goal to open the final period, WBS’ forward Carson Knop brought the puck into the Rebels zone. He was moving cross-ice from left to right and took a long side shot that beat Hanson to cut the Rebels lead by one with 13:45 left in the game. From there on out, the Rebels then tightened their defensive play and shut down the Knights limiting the visitors to two shots on goal for the remainder of the game.
Cusin had three assists on the night. Valentine made 27 stops on 30 shots while Hanson made 22 saves on 24 shots. Click here for the box score.
Game two of the divisional semi-final is tonight at 7:00pm at the IceWorks Skating Complex.