READING, Pa. – The ECHL opened the 2022 playoffs Wednesday night with a matchup between the Reading Royals and Maine Mariners. After a shortened 2019-20 season and the cancellation of the entire 2020-21 season for the North Division, it was sure to be an exciting night for both sides.
The Royals had been on a hot streak for much of the regular season and continued that momentum heading into the playoffs. They outplayed the Mariners for much of the game, scoring the game’s first three goals.
Forward Kenny Hausinger opened the scoring at 13:06 of the first period when he deflected Patrick Bajkov‘s shot past Mariners goaltender Stefanos Lekkas.
Forward Brayden Low followed with two goals in the second. Brad Morrison got the puck out of his own zone and up to Frank DiChiara, who passed cross-ice to Low for his first tally. His second came on a tip of DiChiara’s shot in the final minute of the period.
The Mariners had a “never quit” spirit that got them into the playoffs, particularly in the final few games of the regular season, when they picked up seven of a possible eight points against the top two teams in the division (Reading and Newfoundland Growlers).
That “never quit” spirit showed itself in the third period. After being outshot 28-18 in the first two stanzas, the Mariners came alive and outshot the Royals 12-8 in the final frame.
With Lekkas pulled for an extra attacker, defenseman Zach Malatesta put Maine on the board at 17:20 with a shot from the blue line that beat Reading netminder Logan Flodell.
Less than two minutes later, with less than a minute remaining and still with the extra attacker, Malatesta took another excellent shot from the blue line, this one deflected in by forward Nick Master, to bring the Mariners to within one.
Maine continued to battle the remainder of the game, but Reading held them off, picking up the 3-2 victory.
After combining for a total of 43 penalty minutes in game one, both teams will have to play a much more disciplined game going forward. Both teams had several minors, and Reading’s Brennan Saulnier took a spearing major in the second period, resulting in a game misconduct and will likely be reviewed by the league.
The two teams face off again Friday in Reading. If the Mariners can continue their momentum from the third period of Wednesday’s game, they will have a decent shot at evening up the series. The Royals will have to fight that with sustained pressure through the entire 60 minutes. As shown in game one, if they let up at all, Maine will take advantage and capitalize.
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