ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The Reading Royals had been on the brink of elimination since May 9, their final home game in the best-of-seven North Division Final. Their opponent, the Newfoundland Growlers, had taken a commanding 3-0 series lead into their home arena on Thursday, but the Royals didn’t go down without a fight, taking game four by a 6-3 margin. Both teams came into Saturday’s game five desperately wanting the win—or in Reading’s case needing it. Newfoundland’s Pavel Gogolev had other ideas, however, and led his team to a 5-2 win, helping the Growlers advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in their short history.
For the 27th time this postseason, the first goal came within the first five minutes, and for the sixth time, it was Reading picking up that early first goal. Only 2:20 in, Mason Millman handed the puck to Zayde Wisdom, who skated in and backhanded it past Newfoundland netminder Dryden McKay.
"WIZZING" in on the attack! Zayde Wisdom puts us on the board with his fourth goal of the postseason!
REA 1 | NFL 0 #PaintThePlayoffs pic.twitter.com/1OdZNGCtqP
— x – Reading Royals (@ReadingRoyals) May 13, 2023
Gogolev began his barrage later in the first period, tying the game and giving his team the momentum. With big Keenan Suthers screening goaltender Pat Nagle, the talented Russian let loose his slapshot to get his team on the board.
A couple minutes later, Newfoundland took the lead, never to look back again. Royals defenseman Colin Felix was at center ice trying to move the puck into the Growlers’ zone, but hit Tyler Boland. Gogolev picked up the puck and skated into the Reading zone. He threw it out front and Boland redirected it in.
Trailing 2-1, the Royals needed a strong second period to retake the lead. A quick goal in the middle frame would tie it and once again change the momentum of the game. Instead, it was the Growlers with the quick goal, only 14 seconds in, to extend their lead. Mikko Kokkonen passed the puck up the ice to Orrin Centazzo, who got around Nagle to put it into the open net.
🚨 GOAL 🚨
ROLL THE HIGHLIGHT REEL SCORIN ORRIN 🎬#STANDPROUD pic.twitter.com/aVb4ppSF93
— z – Newfoundland Growlers (@NLGrowlers) May 13, 2023
With a little over five minutes remaining in the second, Charlie Gerard stole the puck from Newfoundland’s Tommy Miller and threw it on net. McKay made the save, but Gerard circled around and picked up the rebound, wristing it past the rookie goalie to help his team pull to within one.
A little over four minutes later, and again with Suthers screening the goalie, Jonny Tychonick fed Gogolev for another goal, extending the Growlers’ lead to 4-2. It was Gogolev’s second power play goal of the night. It was also his fourth point of the night.
The Royals had 20 minutes remaining to put something together and save themselves from elimination, but they couldn’t beat McKay. Then with less than four minutes remaining, their hole was dug a little deeper. Growlers’ alternate captain Todd Skirving headed up ice on a two-on-one with Isaac Johnson, who passed across the ice for Skirving to further extend the lead, ultimately putting the game out of reach for their opponent.
In a last-ditch effort, Royals’ Head Coach James Henry pulled Nagle for an extra attacker. Reading didn’t allow an empty-netter, but they also couldn’t mount a comeback, and they fell 5-2. The loss eliminated them from the postseason.
Gogolev’s four-point night brings him to 13 points this postseason, one less than the league-leading Gordie Green (Toledo Walleye) and Evan Barratt (Reading). Tychonick’s two assists bring him to 12, tops in the league.
Reading’s Nagle played in his 90th postseason game in the league, tying Riley Gill for most ECHL postseason games by a goalie.
Newfoundland advances to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time since they entered the league in the 2018-19 season. In their inaugural season, the Growlers took down the now-defunct Brampton Beast and Manchester Monarchs in the North Division. They then went on to defeat the Florida Everblades in the Eastern Conference Final before overtaking the Walleye for the Kelly Cup Championship. A year ago, Newfoundland advanced to the Eastern Conference Final after eliminating the Trois-Rivières Lions and these same Reading Royals. The Growlers fell to the Florida Everblades in the conference final. The Everblades went on to win the Kelly Cup.
The Growlers now await the victors of the South Division Final between the Everblades and Jacksonville Icemen. Florida currently leads that series 3-2, with game six coming Monday in Jacksonville. If needed, game seven will be Tuesday, also in Jacksonville.
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