(CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I.) - The UPEI Panthers have forced a Game 3 in Halifax after defeating the Saint Mary's Huskies 7-2 Friday night in Game 2 of the Subway AUS Men's Hockey Playoffs quarter-final series.
Led by Darcy Ashley's two goals and Ryan MacKinnon's and Sam Aulie's three-point nights (one goal and two assists each), the Panthers tied the series 1-1, earning an opportunity to play in the decisive series-clinching game on Sunday.
"When you're down, that's when you have to lean on your core group," said Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson. "One thing about this group is that they work hard by nature and from a coach's perspective, you can trust putting them on the ice. And tonight they were rewarded."
Following a concussion that sidelined him for almost a year, Ashley made his return in November and had an immediate impact, with a goal and two assists in his first game back. He struggled since then, posting three goals and seven assists in 19 regular season games. But on Friday, Ashley made his presence felt.
"In a big game like this, it's always great to get a couple (goals)," said Ashley. "The team played great and some of us cashed in tonight. After having a slow year, production wise, it feels good to get a couple goals and get some confidence back in my step."
With their backs against the wall, the Panthers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard first. At 3:44, Brock Beukeboom skated in from the right circle and sniped a wrister over the shoulder of rookie goaltender Eric Brassard for a quick 1-0 lead.
UPEI continued to put pressure on Brassard and the Huskies' defence, outshooting them 15-8 in the period. After two unsuccessful power plays, the Panthers finished the period the same way they started, with a goal. Ashley tipped home MacKinnon's shot from the point in the final 1:09, giving them a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
A delay of game penalty cost the Huskies another goal just a minute into the second period when MacKinnon rifled it past Brassard to make 3-0.
Three minutes later, Gabe Guertler came in from the right and shot it past the helpless keeper, after Beau McCue's big hit in the neutral zone broke him free for the great look. The freshman's fourth goal surrendered would be his last, as Cole Cheveldave replaced the struggling netminder.
The Huskies got one back near the end of the period when Kyle Pereira found an open Steven Shipley, who came in from the slot and placed the puck in the top left corner, beating goaltender Matt Mahalak.
But the Panthers responded on a power play shortly after. From the side of the net, Ashley deposited his second of the night, giving the Panthers a comfortable 5-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
"Right now, as a team, I think we're playing pretty good," Ashley said. "But this is a process and the game starts again at 0-0 and we have to be ready to go."
"After losing the first game, this was a quick confidence builder," MacPherson said. "As bad as we felt on the bus ride home the other night, we feel really good today. That day in-between really gives you a chance to ground yourself and get back into the series."
The pivotal Game 3 will take place in Halifax on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
Source: Thomas Becker for UPEI Athletics Communications