They should have been ripe for the picking. On Sunday afternoon, the St. John’s IceCaps were playing for the third time in 45 hours and in their final contest of a six-game, 10-day road trip.
They had blown a 3-0 first-period lead and suddenly found themselves in a 3-3 tie with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. They were missing three veteran defenceman on recall to the parent Winnipeg Jets, and two forwards to injury.
But they didn’t roll over. They didn’t raise the white flag. They didn’t satisfy themselves with having already taken eight points from the first five games of their New England swing.
Instead, the IceCaps won, getting a power-play goal from Marco Rosa midway through the third period to edge the Sound Tigers 4-3.
It was the fourth victory in six days for St. John’s (9-2-3), which moves into sole possession of first place overall in the American Hockey League, two points ahead of the Houston Aeros.
"I don’t know if I’m quite ready to to make an overall judgment on this team, on every aspect, but I can tell you this much is clear: that this is a team not lacking in work ethic, it’s a team that it doesn’t lack character, and it’s a team that doesn’t lack leadership," said IceCaps’ head coach Keith McCambridge.
"Those are the qualities that personify this team and they are a major part of the reason we were able to accomplish what we did on this trip.
"It was really a chance to come together as a team and I think that’s what’s happened."
After starting off their tour with back-to-back 4-3 overtime losses to the Springfield Falcon and Providence Bruins, the Caps began their win streak by beating the Worcester Sharks 3-1 on Tuesday, followed up by a couple of 6-3 wins, over the Connecticut Whale on Friday, and the Sharks in a Saturday rematch in Worcester.
On Sunday, Riley Holzapfel, Ben Chiarot, with his first pro goal, and Jason DeSantis scored in the first 18 minutes to give the IceCaps a substantial lead.
But the Sound Tigers, the farm team of the New York Islanders, got back into game with goals by David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas, 13 seconds apart in the last 1:16 of the frame.
Aaron Ness knotted the score for the home team 4:43 into the second period.
That led to McCambridge's decision to lift IceCaps’ starting goalie David Aebischer, who had stopped 10 of 13 shots, in favour of Eddie Pasquale, who stopped all 12 shots he faced.
The score remained unchanged until Rosa’s game-deciding tally at 12:43 of the final period, but nothing was assured until the IceCaps dealt with a high-sticking double minor to rookie Eric O’Dell, and a resulting penalty kill which nearly stretched until the final whistle.
"We’ve been strong in the third period, stretching right back to that game in Providence, where we clawed back (with a goal in the last minute of regulation) to get to overtime," said McCambridge.
"Usually, when a team is in a position like we were (Sunday) ... on the road, playing a third game in three days, they’re the ones that will be wearing down in the third period, but for the most part, we’ve been the ones wearing down the opposition.
"That’s a real testament to our depth, even when we’re missing some key guys.
"Other teams aren’t able to get their fourth lines out there on a consistent basis, but we’ve been pretty much able to roll four lines and keep it fresh."
Today, the IceCaps return to St. John’s, where they will begin a six-game homestand, beginning with matchups Friday and Saturday with Connecticut, the farm team of the New York Rangers.
Eddie Pasquale got the decision in all four of the IceCaps wins on this trip, allowing just seven goals in nearly 11 periods of play. Pasquale, who was the second star in relief Sunday, has a 5-0 record, 1.75 goals-against average and .935 save percentage ... Defenceman Kyle Bushee, recalled from Wheeling of the ECHL this week, will remain with the IceCaps, but rearguard Jake Marto, who made his St. John’s debut against the Sound Tigers, is heading back to the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles. Both Bushee and Marto are sigbned to AHL contracts by Winnipeg ... The return of Marto would seem to indicate there is a possibility that one of the three blueliners on recall to the Jets — Brett Festerling, Mark Flood or Paul Postma — might soon be back in St. John’s. Going by playing time Sunday in Winnipegs’ 3-0 loss to the Rangers in New York, Postma would seem to be the first option to get sent down. He played just three shifts as one of seven rearguards dressed for Winnipeg Sunday ... St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge said veteran centre Garth Murray is day-to-day with an injury, but IceCaps rookie winger Jason Gregoire is already back in St. John’s for treatment on an ailment that could keep him out of the lineup until the end of the month ... Shayne Wiebe replaced Aaron Gagnon at forward for St. John’s Sunday. The idea was to help Gagnon, who recently returned to playing after six months of recuperation from a knee injury, ease back into action ... Winnipeg forward Kenndal McArdle cleared NHL waivers over the weekend. Originally, it was believed he was to be assigned to St. John’s if he cleared, but he remains with the Jets, who were missing forward Nik Antropov on Sunday. Antropov has a hand injury ...
IceCaps 4, Sound Tigers 3
Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn.
1, St. John's, Holzapfel 6 (Jaffray, Kulda), 7:50 2, St. John's, Chiarot 1 (Albert, Clark), 14:11 3, St. John's, DeSantis 1 (Rosa, Klingberg), 17:43 4, Bridgeport, Ullstrom 7 (Reese), 18:44 5, Bridgeport, Cizikas 3 (DiBenedetto, Wallace), 18:57 Penalties — Machacek Stj (tripping), 1:17; Chiarot Stj (tripping), 6:28; Cizikas Bri (interference), 7:24.
6, Bridgeport, Ness 2 (Colliton), 4:43
Penalties — DeSantis Stj (hooking), 7:15.
7, St. John's, Rosa 3 (King, Jaffray), 12:10 (PP) Penalties — Frischmon Bri (tripping), 6:57; Backman Bri (hooking), 10:09; Marcinko Bri (high-sticking), 11:25; O'Dell Stj (double minor - high-sticking), 15:44.
Shots on goal
St. John's 10 5 12 27
Bridgeport 8 11 6 25
Power-plays (goals/chances): St. John's 1/4; Bridgeport 0/5
Goalies: St. John's — Aebischer 2-3-0 (13 shots-10 saves); Pasquale 5-0-0 (12 shots-12 saves); Bridgeport — Koskinen 0-2-0 (27 shots-23 saves).
Referee: David Banfield; Linesmen: Rich Patry, Glen Coo