READING – There have been many quick starts in the 2023 postseason. As a matter of fact, 23 games have seen their first goals scored within the opening five minutes. Four were within the opening minute, including Toledo Walleye forward Gordie Green‘s goal 15 seconds into his team’s 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones back on May 5. Ironically, his former team beat his time.
When the Newfoundland Growlers and Reading Royals faced off for game three of their best-of-seven North Division final series Tuesday, it took only 14 seconds for Newfoundland, whom Green played for last season, to get on the scoreboard. The Growlers scored twice more in the opening period, then three times in the second, on their way to a 6-3 victory over the Royals.
Things looked bleak for Reading when an early defensive error was converted into a goal for Newfoundland. Royals defenseman Tyler Heidt backhanded the puck directly to Growlers forward Keenan Suthers for the goal only 14 seconds in.
The Royals answered back less than two minutes later, however, when Alec Butcher picked up the puck along the boards and passed to Max Newton in the opposite faceoff circle. Newton’s shot beat Newfoundland netminder Dryden McKay glove-side, banking off the post and in.
Max Newton ties this game up at 1!!!
NFD 1 | REA 1 | #PaintthePlayoffs pic.twitter.com/pl11Sgg6wx
— x – Reading Royals (@ReadingRoyals) May 9, 2023
The Growlers regained their lead a little over ten minutes later when Tommy Miller‘s shot deflected off T.J. Fergus and into the net. Four minutes later, the lead was extended when Nolan Walker scored on the power play. With Heidt in the penalty box, Mikko Kokkonen skated the length of the ice, then passed to Walker in the offensive zone. Evan Barratt went down to block the shot, but Walker was patient and waited until he could get off a clear shot to make it 3-1.
The Royals needed to come out hot in the middle frame to get some momentum going in their favor. Instead, they almost gave up a goal 40 seconds into the period. The Growlers thought they had put the puck into the net, but goaltender Pat Nagle kept it out with his skate. After reviewing the play, the officials determined the puck never crossed the goal line.
Newfoundland was not deterred by the non-goal. Less than three minutes later, Walker stole the puck from Zayde Wisdom and carried it down the ice on a two-on-one with Tyler Boland. Walker passed across to Boland, who put it past Nagle for the 4-1 lead.
The scoring didn’t stop there. A little over a minute later, Suthers backhanded the puck from behind the Reading net. Jack Badini was right in front to take the point-blank shot. Nagle made the save but didn’t see the rebound.
Isaac Johnson saw it, however, and he scored into the wide-open net before the goaltender could even react.
Kaden Fulcher came in to replace Nagle in the Royals’ net. In a further attempt to spark something in his team, Devon Paliani fought Growlers pest Zach Solow, who is tied for second in the league in penalty minutes this postseason.
Less than three minutes later, it was Newfoundland scoring again, this time Brandon Kruse. Kruse had taken a shoulder up high earlier in the game, writhing in pain on the ice before being helped back to the bench. He got his revenge in the form of a goal.
🚨 GOAL 🚨
KRUSE SAID 6⃣!#STANDPROUD pic.twitter.com/pnlaPbDkfC
— z – Newfoundland Growlers (@NLGrowlers) May 10, 2023
The floodgates had opened, and it almost got worse for Reading. Boland nearly had a second goal on a breakaway about halfway through the second, but he couldn’t get the puck to settle. Fulcher wouldn’t allow another goal the remainder of the night.
The Royals came back for two goals in the third period. Barratt scored a power play goal after sustained pressure in the Growlers’ zone just after the midway point of the third. Eight minutes later Brendan Hoffmann had a shorthanded breakaway. McKay made the save, but Hoffmann knocked his own rebound into the wide-open net. It was a case of too little too late, however, and the night ended in a 6-3 victory for Newfoundland.
This latest loss puts the Royals in a tough spot. Though not impossible, it will be very difficult to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, especially under the circumstances. The Growlers are 29-8-1-0 at Mary Brown’s Centre this season, including the two victories over the Adirondack Thunder in the North Division semifinals. Another factor is the number of players on NHL and AHL contracts; Reading has 10 while Newfoundland has nearly twice that number at 19. Perhaps the biggest factor will be the momentum going into game four. Currently on a seven-game win streak, the Growlers have it all.
The teams travel to St. John’s Wednesday and will face off for what may be the final game of the season for the Royals on Thursday. If Reading can win, game five will be Saturday. If needed, games six and seven would be Monday and Tuesday.
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