Panthers ride four-goal first period to win over red-hot Tigers

Panthers ride four-goal first period to win over red-hot Tigers

By Thomas Becker

Since the Christmas break, the UPEI Panthers defeated the St. FX X-Men, UNB Varsity Reds (both of which were dethroned as the nation's No. 1 ranked team after a meeting with the Panthers) and a tough Acadia Axemen squad twice. Now you can add the Dalhousie Tigers – who were riding a five-game win streak – to that list. 

When the odds suggested otherwise, the Panthers (10-18-1) once again proved naysayers wrong, as they overpowered the Tigers 6-3 Friday night. 

UPEI was simply unstoppable in the first period where Sam Aulie, Kameron Kielly, Beau McCue and Riley Whittingham each scored. 

"Everyone knew the magnitude of that game in terms of standings and positions heading into the playoffs," said Kielly, who also added three assists on the night. 

After a disappointing effort last Saturday, where they lost to the Saint Mary's Huskies 9-1, head coach Forbes MacPherson was encouraged with the way his team bounced back.

Come playoff time, that's the kind of effort the bench boss is looking for. And with fifth place all to their own, the Panthers will find out Saturday night whether they'll be playing the Huskies or the Axemen in the quarter-finals. 

"Tonight solidifies guys' confidence that we're back to playing the way should be playing," MacPherson said.

The home team attacked early and often in the opening period, but didn't connect on a shot until the 8:48 mark. McCue, who finished with three points, chased the puck before it hit the end boards and passed it back to Aulie who tipped it in for the 1-0 advantage. 

After Aulie's goal, the floodgates opened for the Panthers, who dominated puck possession and outshot their opponent 16-6. UPEI's power play unit orchestrated back-to-back goals and was an efficient 2-of-3 in the period. First it was Kielly, who notched his 11th of the season at 11:30, followed by a McCue goal less than two minutes later to put them up 3-0.

"We did a good job of spending a lot of time in their (Dalhousie's) zone and keeping them away from their forecheck," MacPherson said. 

Dalhousie's Alex Pawelczyk cut the deficit 3-1 with his eighth of the season, but his team gave it right back when Whittingham's shot wobbled past Corbin Boes top left corner to restore the Panthers' three-goal lead.

"Everybody knows Boes is one of the best goalies in Canada and we were fortunate to get a couple by him early, and that ended up being the difference of the game."

Pawelczyk was at it again in the opening minutes of the second when he chipped in a shot off a nice feed from rookie teammate Reid Murphy.

Boes settled down between the pipes and turned aside all 10 shots he faced in the period to keep the Tigers (9-19-1) in the game despite trailing 4-2. 

UPEI responded early in the third when Olivier Arseneau backhanded a pass to Cody Payne, who beat Boes blocker side to make it 5-2.

The Tigers made one last push and cut it to 5-3 on a power play goal by Myles McGurty at the midway point, but that was as close as they'd get as Marcus Power sealed the 6-3 win with an empty-netter.

In celebration of Hockey Day on Prince Edward Island, the Panthers will host the St. FX X-Men at the Eastlink Centre on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan