WORCESTER, Mass. — The Adirondack Thunder got a split of their games in Worcester, and all things considered, probably in the order they’d prefer if a split was in the cards.
Held to just a season-low 14 shots Saturday night, the Thunder rebounded Sunday with a more flowing offense in a 3-1 win in Game 3 of their ECHL North Division semifinal series at DCU Center.
The Thunder lead the series 2-1 and host Game 4 on Wednesday at Cool Insuring Arena.
“I was really proud of our effort today,” Thunder coach Brad Tapper said. “Guys were putting their bodies on the line, that’s playoff hockey. Worcester’s doing the same thing. We have to enjoy this for about five minutes, park it and be ready for Wednesday.”
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The Thunder unleashed 18 shots on goal in the first period, setting a better tone than they had all of Saturday.
“Very important, but I try to preach to these guys don’t worry about the shot clock,” Tapper said. “Yeah, you do want to filter pucks and this and that, but it can’t allow you to lose confidence, lose momentum just because the shots aren’t up there.”
It was the third start in as many days for Thunder goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who rose to the challenge in making 28 saves.
“We talked with Scott Clemensen (New Jersey Devils goaltending development coach), we talked with our staff and (Blackwood) as well,” Tapper said. “He is a beast of a kid.
“He could have come down (from Binghamton in the AHL) and said, ‘You know what, I don’t want to do this,’ but he’s bought in and he’s going to work his butt off the rest of the way,” Tapper added.
“You take every opportunity to rest you can,” Blackwood said of his strategy for the long weekend. “Any time you have some downtime, you’re just trying to get a quick nap in, eat as much good food as you can and stretching, take care of the body because it’s a big toll to be put on yourself. Three games in a row in less than three full days as a goaltender is quite a bit.”
Adirondack opened the scoring at 10:51 of the first period on a power-play goal from Brian Ward. He got the second rebound of Dylan Olsen’s slapshot.
The Thunder made it 2-0 at 2:48 of the second on a pretty pass from Ward to a cutting Mike Szmatula right in front of the goal.
Worcester answered at 6:23 when Jeff Kubiak split two defensemen and scored. That got the crowd into it.
For much of the third period, Adirondack seemed to play the hockey equivalent of prevent defense, not generating much possession. With 2:20 left, Worcester goalie Eamon McAdam came off in favor of another forward.
As expected, the Railers unleashed a flurry of shots on the Thunder, but on their final one, Ryan Schmelzer blocked Ryan MacKinnon’s shot from the point, got to the loose puck first and skated past everybody for an empty-net goal with 13 seconds left.
“Credit to (Kenton Miller and James Henry), the wingers out with me, they were flying back and forth trying to block shots out top,” Schmelzer said. “I was just near the crease trying to knock pucks away and pick up bodies. When I did block it, I knew I had the energy to pick it up and skate it down and made sure I put it in.”
“Now we’ve got to continue to do the right things,” Blackwood said. “This isn’t it. We need to build off what we’ve been doing and try to improve in every game.”
Thunder 3, Railers 1
Adirondack 1 1 1 — 3
Worcester 0 1 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Adirondack, Ward 2 (Miller, Olsen), 10:51 (PP). Penalties-Doherty Wor (roughing), 9:10; Bergin Adk (cross-checking), 11:10.
Second Period — 2, Adirondack, Szmatula 1 (Ward), 2:48. 3, Worcester, Kubiak 1 (Syner, Doherty), 6:23. Penalties — Hudson Wor (tripping), 0:42; Rodrigues Adk (tripping), 7:30; Miller Adk (holding), 19:26.
Third Period — 4, Adirondack, Schmelzer 1, 19:47 (EN). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal — Adirondack 18-10-8-36. Worcester 10-10-9-29.
Power Play Opportunities — Adirondack 1-2; Worcester 0-3.
Goalies — Adirondack, Blackwood (29 shots-28 saves). Worcester, McAdam (35 shots-33 saves).
A — 4,216
Referees — Sean Fernandez (21), Sean MacFarlane (4).
Linesmen — Jarred Mitrano (86), Kyle Richtelle (73).