ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Reading Royals and Newfoundland Growlers met up for game four of their best-of-seven North Division final series Wednesday in St. John’s. The Royals were looking to take a commanding 3-1 series lead while the Growlers were hoping to tie the series 2-2. The result was a hard-fought, back-and-forth game, with the Royals holding off the Growlers for a 6-5 victory.
In each of Reading’s first two wins of the series, they had scored less than three minutes into the game (2:13 in game one, 2:38 in game three). Wednesday’s game was no different, with the first goal being scored at the 2:12 mark.
Reading’s Trevor Gooch had the puck in the offensive zone, but had it taken away by Newfoundland’s Derian Plouffe. Royals forward Frank DiChiara stole it right back for Reading, and quickly passed to Gooch for the early 1-0 lead.
DiChiara picked up his second helper on the night three minutes later when his pass connected with Brennan Saulnier, whose one-timer beat Growlers goaltender Keith Petruzzelli.
Newfoundland cut the lead in half less than three minutes later. Defenseman Ben Finkelstein blasted a shot from the blue line. Marc Johnstone was parked in front of the net and deflected the puck past Reading netminder Logan Flodell.
The Royals fought back to regain their two-goal advantage. Newfoundland’s Isaac Johnson gave up the puck right in front of his own net, and Patrick Bajkov took advantage, making the score 3-1.
Following Bajkov’s goal, the Growlers pulled netminder Petruzzelli in favor of Rylan Parenteau, making his second appearance in relief this postseason.
It became a one-goal game once again early in the second period when Newfoundland’s Orrin Centazzo backhanded a rebound past Flodell.
The back-and-forth play continued as the Royals found the net again only two minutes later. Bajkov backhanded a pass to DiChiara, who rifled the puck past Parenteau for a 4-2 lead.
Again the Growlers battled back with a goal of their own only a minute later. Johnstone’s backhand pass from behind the net found Noel Hoefenmayer, and the Growlers were down 4-3, once again only a goal away from tying it up.
Neither team scored again during the middle frame, though there were several grade A chances, most notably Tyler Boland‘s, in which he was absolutely robbed by Flodell.
The Royals regained their two-goal lead again at 6:36 of the third period. Brad Morrison skated in on Parenteau’s right and waited for the goaltender to commit. Once Parenteau went down in anticipation of a shot, Morrison passed across the crease to Saulnier, who tapped the puck into the open net.
Reading extended their lead to 6-3 with Gooch’s second goal of the night. Mason Millman passed across the crease to Gooch, whose wrister beat Parenteau with 9:02 remaining.
The Growlers did not give up, however. Head Coach Eric Wellwood made a gutsy move and pulled Parenteau for an extra attacker with just under eight minutes remaining–during a 4-on-4. It paid off.
Centazzo picked up his second goal of the night on the rebound of a Hoefenmayer shot, and the Growlers were again within striking distance.
Parenteau returned to his net until the 17:31 mark, and was pulled again for an extra attacker. With Reading’s Jacob Pritchard serving a double-minor for a high stick to Matteo Pietroniro and Garrett McFadden in the box for slashing, it created a 5-on-3 for Newfoundland.
Finkelstein brought his team even closer when his shot through traffic beat Flodell. The Growlers trailed by one with 1:15 left to play.
Despite sustained pressure throughout the remainder of the game, Newfoundland was not able to find the net again and fell by a final score of 6-5.
The Growlers went 1-for-7 on the power play Wednesday night while the Royals were 4-for-8. Newfoundland’s Hoefenmayer had a shorthanded goal in the second period.
If the Growlers want to make a comeback in this series, they will have to be better on both the power play and the penalty kill.
The teams meet again for the third night in a row Thursday in game five. Now down 3-1 in the series, it’s a must-win situation for the Growlers. If they can pull out a victory on home ice, they’ll head to Reading for at least one more game. Otherwise, their season will be over, and the Royals will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
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