MACON, Ga – As a result of the Pensacola Ice Flyers continuing surge, the Macon Mayhem will back home with their backs against the wall.
The Ice Flyers broke a 2-2 tie in the third period on a goal by Brennan Blaszczak to pull ahead and go on to win 4-2 following an empty-net goal by Blaszczak.
Pensacola, seeded third in the President’s Cup Playoffs, captured Friday’s win after not beating top-seeded Macon in regulation during the regular season. Now, the scene shifts to Macon for Saturday’s second game at 7:30 ET, where the Ice Flyers will look to close out the series. If Macon wins, it’ll force a winner-take-all third game on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Pensacola goalie Jake Kupsky gave up two goals for the third postseason game in a row, and it was enough to will his team to a series lead. Both he and his Macon counterpart, Jake Theut, came up with big saves, each staving off a breakaway try.
But in a game in which the smallest third-period break ended up deciding the game and early-series momentum, Kupsky gained the upper hand, stopping 19 of the 21 shots that the Mayhem threw at him.
Theut stopped 23 of the 26 shots that he faced. It was just the fifth time since the start of the regular season that Theut allowed three or more goals in a single game.
The third period’s tight quarters were set up by a wild span starting late in the first period to the end of the second.
A stalemate on the ice started things off, one that was broken 16:32 into the game when Alec Hagaman made it 1-0 in favor of the Ice Flyers.
But that’s when Macon’s comeback mentality kicked in. The Mayhem twice rallied back to tie the game before the Ice Flyers game-winner in the third. First, it was Mason Baptista early in the second period, needing just 2:50 to tie the game. Then, after Hagaman’s second score of the night, this time 11:33 into the third on a power-play that moved Pensacola up front 2-1, the special teams goal by the Ice Flyers tainted Macon’s unblemished special-teams mark in the postseason. Macon’s penalty kill unit held Huntsville off the board on the power play in the semifinal round.
The drama in the second period wasn’t just limited to the scoreboard. After neither team was whistled for a penalty through the first 16 minutes, things turned in the opposite direction in the second. Near the seven-minute mark, the game’s first penalties were served by Pensacola’s Hagaman and Macon’s Stathis Soumeldis. Then, an on-ice fracas resulted in multiple players serving two-minute infractions – Zach Walker and Blaszczak for Pensacola and Gabe Guertler, Nick Minerva, and Andrew Romano also serving a penalty for Minerva. The man advantage ended up looming large as it set up Hagaman’s second goal.
Macon came back yet again, this time with Casey Johnson slapping a shot past Kupsky at 12:56 of the second, setting up a 2-2 tie which is where things sat through two periods before the Ice Flyers pulled in front.