The Pensacola Ice Flyers opened their President’s Cup Semifinal series with the Mississippi RiverKings hoping to use their special teams to their advantage. The Ice Flyers, with a third-best power play of 16% during the regular season, went 0-for-10 in their first-round sweep of the Huntsville Havoc. The Ice Flyers, 19.2% with the man advantage against Mississippi this season, needed to get their power play going.

The Ice Flyers’ special teams were in full display last night in front of 3,353 at the Pensacola Bay Center. Pensacola went 2-for-5 on the power play, 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, and added a shorthanded marker en route to four unanswered goals in last night’s 4-1 thrashing of the RiverKings. Pensacola has a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series, and can punch their ticket to their third President’s Cup Final as early as Saturday night in Southaven, Mississippi.

The RiverKings, fresh off of their convincing two game sweep of the Louisiana IceGators in the playoffs’ opening round, were able to play the Ice Flyers to a scoreless first period. Despite being the league’s least penalized team, Mississippi found themselves in penalty trouble early with two calls in the first period.

The third RiverKings penalty, a tripping call on defenseman Sam Higgins, finally got the Ice Flyers’ power play in gear. Joe Holka opened the scoring by deflecting a blue line shot by Jeremy Gates past Mississippi goaltender Peter Di Salvo at the 4:45 mark of the second period. Later in the middle frame, Mississippi miscues would open the game up for Pensacola. After the RiverKings get called for having too many men on the ice, Pensacola defenseman Anthony Calabrese buries a shot from the left point past Di Salvo to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead. The goal would eventually get credited to forward Joe Caveney on a deflection. Pensacola showed great puck movement to set up Calabrese’s shot.

The evening got worse for the visiting RiverKings early in the third period. While on the power play after Pensacola’s Stephen Buco got two minutes for hooking, the Ice Flyers penalty kill caught Mississippi napping. Pensacola defenseman Steve Bergin hit forward Josh Cousineau with a pass while on a left side rush. Cousineau then found Ryan Kesti up the middle for a well-executed shorthanded play at the 1:33 mark of the third period.

Pensacola would ice the game 75 seconds later on Holka’s second goal of the night, set up by Calabrese’s second assist 2:48 into the third period. The RiverKings would avoid the shutout with 10:29 remaining in the game on Matt Harrington‘s goal, but Mississippi would not threaten afterwards. Matt Zenzola played a solid game in net for the Ice Flyers, making 24 of 25 saves. The series will resume Saturday night in Southaven. Should the RiverKings force a third game, it will be played Sunday afternoon at the Columbus Civic Center.

The Ice Flyers (3-0) are the league’s lone unbeaten team this postseason. The most impressive sidenote of Pensacola’s playoff run is they are winning despite the lack of offensive production from top liners Corey Banfield, Adam Pawlick, and Joe Caveney. The high-scoring trio have combined for only one goal and four assists over the Flyers’ three games.

Mississippi (2-1), on the other hand, are getting the bulk of their scoring from top players like Leo Thomas, Devin Mantha, and Todd Hosmer. The trio have combined for seven goals and two assists, but were held scoreless by Pensacola last night.

Tonight’s Game:

#4 Fayetteville FireAntz at #1 Peoria Rivermen – 8:05 CT
Peoria leads the series, 1-0, and can secure their place in the President’s Cup Final with a win tonight.

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