STONEHAM — They didn’t so much win this series as they survive it.
There were equal parts elation, satisfaction and relief for the St. John’s Prep hockey team after it outlasted a gritty Central Catholic team last night at the Stoneham Arena, 4-2, in the third and deciding game of their Super 8 quarterfinal series.
Senior captain Brian Pinho’s goal with exactly seven minutes to play snapped a 2-2 tie, and linemate Tyler Bird’s power play tally with just 2:08 remaining sealed the deal for St. John’s Prep (19-3-1), enabling the top seed to advance.
“Certainly after last Sunday, did I know we’d be in this position? I wouldn’t have guaranteed it,” said St. John’s Prep head coach Kristian Hanson.
“I didn’t think we were going to survive at times. But it’s a personal rivalry for a lot of my guys who live in that (Merrimack Valley) area and know all their kids. This became a personal mission for them.”
Billy Price, the senior from Danvers, had his best game of the series in goal for St. John’s, making 25 saves.
The Eagles, who were embarrassed in losing Game 1 to Central last Sunday, stormed back a vengence in two must-win games to keep their season alive. They were physical, persistent to the puck and, despite being outshot (27-26), had more quality scoring chances and buried them when it mattered most.
Now it’s on to the semifinals, where they’ll face fourth-seeded Austin Prep (15-1-6) on Wednesday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell (time TBA) for the right to play for the state title on St. Patrick’s Day at the TD Garden in Boston. St. John’s Prep dealt the Cougars their lone loss this season, 5-1, on Jan. 19.
After being dominated for much of Friday’s Game 2, Central Catholic (15-7-3) came out much stronger in last night’s decisive Game 3, using an effective two-man forecheck and buzzing around the Prep zone. Twice the Raiders rallied from one-goal deficits, with Christian Thompson knotting things up at 2-2 with his tally midway through the third period.