By Phil Stacey
---- — 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.
But the Eagles would have the final say. On the very next shift, the Prep’s top line delievered as Pinho took a pass from Bird (who sold Central goalie Colin Soucy on a great fake) and easily slammed it into the empty cage for a 3-2 lead. The goal, Pinho’s first of the postseason, came just 26 seconds after the Raiders had tied it.
“I had been gripping my stick so tight (this series),” said Pinho, emulating wringing an invisible stick after the game. “It was so good to get that one. Hopefully there’s more coming.”
The Eagles then capitalized on the man advantage with under three minutes to play. Not in a power play formation so much as they had their first line on the ice, St. John’s found themselves in an odd-man situation in the Raider zone and buried it when Bird knocked home a rebound to Soucy’s right.
“They’re a tough, tough team,” said Central coach Mike Jankowski of the Prep. His team split four meetings with the Eagles this season. “It was a great series.”
Junior left wing Jimmy Currier broke the ice for St. John’s Prep 5:38 into the second period, throwing a turnaround shot on goal from the right circle that slipped under Soucy’s pads. Lloyd Hayes’ power play tally four minutes later tied it for Central before the Eagles retook the lead before the end of the period on Paul Crehan’s one-timer off a Justin Longo rebound.
For both Currier and Crehan it was their seventh goals of the season.
“We’ve got 15 seniors in our locker room and they never stopped, to be honest,” said Hanson. “We’ve got great senior leadership, great captains. Right from the drop of the puck ... right from the bus, I should say ... they were motivating each other. They didn’t want this to be their last game.”
agateHed:St. John’s Prep 4, Central Catholic 2
agate_boldCentered:Super 8 quarterfinals, Game 3
at Stoneham Arena
agate_line3Periods:Central Catholic: 0 1 1 — 2
St. John’s Prep: 0 2 2 — 4
agate_lineQuarters:First period: No scoring.
Second Period: SJP, Jimmy Currier (Nic Gianelli, Brent Murray), 5:38; CC, Lloyd Hayes (Kevin Regan, Derek Vaillancourt), ppg, 9:41; SJP, Paul Crehan (Cam Shaheen, Justin Longo), 13:41.
Third Period: CC, Christian Thompson (Regan, Billy Stahley), 7:34; SJP, Brian Pinho (Tyler Bird, Ryan Byrne), 8:00; SJP, Bird (Pinho, Jack McCarthy), ppg, 12:52.
Saves: CC, Colin Soucy 22; SJP, Billy Price 25.
Records: SJP, 19-3-1; CC, 15-7-3.