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San Jose Eliminates Tucson in Pacific Division Play-In Game

San Jose Eliminates Tucson in Pacific Division Play-In Game

IRVINE, Calif. – It’s not the trophy most teams have been gunning for this season, but for the players in the Pacific Division, earning the John D. Chick Trophy is the name of the game. It’s a part of a season like any other, where now teams will compete in a play-in series to decide who will be atop the Pacific Division.

For the first game of the playoffs, fourth place San Jose was playing “home” to the seventh-place Tucson Roadrunners. Tucson started with Ivan Prosvetov, who has been sitting primarily on the taxi squad for the Coyotes. Meanwhile, San Jose elected to start Josef Korenar in net, who had a .898 save percentage with the Barracuda this season.

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Courtesy / AHL

One thing that I was quick to notice was how defensive both teams play. Only playing twice this season (their last meeting came three months ago), they also had an immense feeling out process. With a scoreless first, both teams had to focus on their game. In the slow-burning match  they had brewing, getting the first goal of the game is huge. Only generating a combined 11 shots through the first, the contest could have ultimately begun in the second period.

The defensive chess match was halted just 3:01 into the second period, with the Roadrunners breaking the ice with the game’s opening goal. The play started with Nate Sucese, who was battling with two in the corner. The distracted Barracuda squad missed the streaking Jan Jenik, who had all the time and space in the world to deke out Korenar.

Though Tucson had outplayed San Jose in the first half of the second period, San Jose found a leak on Prosvetov. Prosvetov made the initial save off Nicolas Meloche’s shot. Evan Weinger squirted through the Roadrunner’s defense to find the rebound.

San Jose had a great chance to pull ahead, with an odd-man rush developing in the offensive zone. Two Roadrunners collided, creating a 5-on-3. Steenn Pasichnuk was bullying Jenik near the boards, which produced a penalty against San Jose. The penalty put the kybosh on a great chance for the Barracuda to pull ahead, which is not something you would expect to see in a playoff-type game.

At the end of 40, it was a 1-1 game, with a critical third period on the rise. Tucson had an electric start to the middle frame, but San Jose chomped back to tie. With the shots fastened at 13-13, both teams needed to start shooting the puck on the net and dial the offense up a few notches.

San Jose gained energy in the third period and jumped ahead of the Roadrunners for the lead. Prosvetov wasn’t in a great position when the pass went east to west behind the goal. Three Roadrunners were chasing the puck in the trapezoid when Jayden Halbgewachs intercepted the puck and passed it to rookie Jake McGrew, who was open on the far side of the goal. Prosvetov was planted in the center of the net, leaving the short-post side open, which is where McGrew potted the shot.

Inevitably, the Roadrunners got hungry following the San Jose goal. But the Barracuda played a solid defensive game and kept pucks to the outside. Tucson didn’t really get any good looks in on goal, but anytime they had a shot, Korenar had it. A last-minute push and an empty-net force came up dry in the late stages of the third period.

With the 2-1 win, San Jose moves on to the second round and will play the Colorado Eagles tonight at 7:00 PT. The winner moves on to play the Henderson Silver Knights in Las Vegas, while the loser’s season is over.

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    Zack Power covers the Toronto Marlies for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMarlies.

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