SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Tucson Roadrunners and San Jose Barracuda opened their Pacific Division Semifinal Thursday, in a tight matchup that would be decided in the final 90 seconds of regulation.
The top-seeded Roadrunners were playing in their first-ever playoff game, and San Jose’s edge in experience was evident for two periods… even if it failed to yield success. The Barracuda would carry over their momentum from a six-game win streak to close the regular season, outshooting Tucson 32-11 through 40 minutes. However, even with the massive lead in shots, San Jose would trail heading into the third. Tucson goalie Adin Hill was the difference, as he had turned aside 31 of 32 San Jose shots heading into the second intermission.
The Barracuda would hold the Roadrunners to just five first period shots, outshooting them 10-5, but it would be Tucson who found the first’s only tally. With 8:56 left in the opening frame, Carter Camper found Dakota Mermis in the far faceoff dot. Mermis whipped a quick shot that beat Barracuda goaltender Antoine Bibeau over his shoulder and sailed into the upper corner. It was the first postseason marker in Roadrunner history, and it would send Tucson to the second with a 1-0 advantage.
The second period would also be dominated statistically by San Jose, and they would find the tying goal on a power play midway through the frame. Tim Heed fired a shot from the point that Hill was able to turn aside, but the rebound went to Alexander True, and with 10:27 on the clock, True would even the count 1-1.
Tucson would respond just 23 seconds later, though. With a beautiful individual effort from Ryan MacInnis, he carried the puck with speed into the San Jose zone and down to towards the corner. As he got behind the Barracuda defense, he suddenly cut on a dime and drove hard towards the net. He used the strength of a bull and the speed of a roadrunner, as he pulled the puck around Bibeau and slid it into the net to make it 2-1 visitors.
San Jose would spend the remainder of the period trying to find a second equalizer, but even with another Barracuda man advantage, Hill was able to keep San Jose from finding it in the frame. The middle stanza would come to a close with the Barracuda holding the massive edge in shots, but, thanks to Hill, Tucson would take a 2-1 lead to the third.
The third would be the decisive frame on Thursday night, with the teams combining to double the offensive production from the first two frames. The first few minutes of the third went by without incident, but then five minutes in the game was suddenly tied off a couple of fortunate bounces.
Heed carried it in on the rush and fired a quick shot up high on Hill. Hill made the save, but the puck had hit his mask, and he was unable to control the rebound. Even still the puck bounced almost all the way to the point before Adam Helewka grabbed it off the boards, spun, and fired all in one motion. Hill was able to get his blocker on the shot, but the puck bounced off, hit Alexander Chmelevski in the chest, and bounced back over Hill and into the net. It was a massive goal for one of the newest members of the Barracuda squad, Chmelevski played only the final six regular-season games for San Jose (3-1–4), and his first career playoff goal tied the score 2-2.
It looked for a long while like this game, much like the Texas/Ontario game to open the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs, would need more than 60 minutes to decide it. The best chance for someone to find a late winner had seemed to pass when a San Jose power play ended with just two minutes remaining on the clock. That would not be the case, however, as with under 90 seconds to play in regulation a winner would indeed be found.
Tucson carried the puck in on what did not at first appear to be a dangerous rush, but all of a sudden a quick drop pass from Michael Bunting found Lane Pederson open in the slot. Pederson did not waste any time in letting go a quick shot that beat Bibeau five-hole and gave Tucson their third lead of the contest. This time, though, they would not relinquish it.
San Jose would pull Bibeau for the extra attacker, but they had not been left much time for a response. Tucson’s stellar rookie Dylan Strome would ice it with 13.1 to play, when he glided in all alone and calmly slipped the puck into the yawning cage. The empty net goal gave us our final score of 4-2.
With the win, the Roadrunners survive a scare to take a one-game-to-none lead in this best-of-five series, with game two coming Saturday at 7:05 PT in San Jose.
There are certainly positives for each side to take from game one. Tucson got outplayed and outshot for the majority of the game on Thursday, but received fantastic goaltending and timely scoring to claim victory. They know they can play better, yet they still find themselves up a game thanks to Adin Hill. If he continues to play like this, it could be a short opening series for the Pacific champs.
San Jose, on the other hand, has to leave feeling dejected to have been unable to pull it out, yet still confident they can do what it takes to knock off the Roadrunners. Hill was not consistent at all against San Jose in the regular season, so the Barracuda shouldn’t doubt their ability to win if they play another game like Thursday. Game two is now critical for the Barracuda, however, as they do not want to have to win three straight in Tucson to advance.
The Sin Bin has you covered for game two, as we will continue to have every series covered throughout the postseason. You can follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on the action; simply follow @SinBinStars to keep up with this series in depth, and @SinBinNews for all your Calder Cup Playoffs needs.