By Thomas Becker
The playoffs are built on big moments and there was none bigger Thursday night than Brent Andrews' game-winning goal in overtime, as the UPEI Panthers edged the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus 3-2 in quarter-final action.
After Doug Blaisdell poked the puck free in the neutral zone, Beau McCue gathered it and sent it to Andrews on the far wing and from the right circle the captain wristed the shot past the keeper.
"I was pretty fired up," Andrews said after the emotional goal. "It was probably the biggest goal I ever had at UPEI."
Over the last five seasons, head coach Forbes MacPherson has watched Andrews grow into the standout leader he's become and that goal was just another reason why the fifth-year veteran is invaluable to this team.
"He's been a big part of this program for five years," MacPherson said. "There's nobody who works harder day-to-day and it's good to see that type of person rewarded."
Before all the heroics, the Panthers got off to a rocky start and were hesitant in their attack, as if they were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.
The Aigles Bleus, meanwhile, were the aggressors and came out with authority. And while both teams were limited to just five shots apiece in the opening period, it was Moncton who would strike first.
At 6:22, Vincent Deslauriers fed a pass through the crease to Édouard Michaud, who easily scored on the open cage as goaltender Matthew Mancina scrambled to recover.
Moncton held the advantage well into the second period before UPEI finally went on the attack. A lackluster power play, that resulted in a single shot, seemed to light a fire underneath them.
Moments after Filip Rydtrom was sent to the box for tripping, Nick Shumlanski led a shorthanded two-on-one break that resulted in the equalizer. After passing it wide to McCue, who rifled a shot off goaltender Étienne Montpetit, Shumlanski buried the rebound with 5:28 to go in the second.
"It was a good feeling," Shumlanski said. "The boys really picked it up after that."
The Panthers would take the lead less than two minutes later. On another odd-man rush, Kameron Kielly and Gabe Guertler played a little give and go, as Guertler finished the beautiful play off with a wrister from the right circle.
Determined to steal the game on the road, Moncton responded 7:29 into third. Alexis Roy battled for the puck behind UPEI's net and centred it to Ryan Chiasson, who beat a helpless Mancina to tie it.
But at 2:23 in overtime, Andrews delivered the game-winner to take Game 1 of the AUS quarter-final.
Mancina earned the win with 20 saves, while his counterpart made 27.
The Panthers head to Moncton this Saturday for Game 2 of the best-of-three series. Game time is 7 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan