NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- As always, the game plan was to make the opponent play from behind – and St. John's (Shrewsbury) couldn't have executed it much better.
The Pioneers grabbed the lead 44 seconds into Monday night's Super 8 play-in game against Needham and never surrendered it. St. John's scored four first-period goals and advanced to the field of eight by posting a 5-4 victory at Merrimack College's Lawler Arena.
Vin D'Amato, Bryan Nelson, Mike Brown, Kevin Emmerling and Jay Duquette scored for the Pioneers, who raised their record to 16-4-3.
'It feels great,” Emmerling said. “Now we just have to keep it going. I think a lot of people doubted us coming into this game. I think we had a lot to prove. We're gonna keep the foot on the pedal.”
The Pioneers will be the tournament's No. 8 seed and face top-seeded Malden Catholic (15-1-4) Sunday at Merrimack College. St. John's will be making its first Super 8 appearance since 2003.
Although St. John's owned a five-goal lead late in the second period, the Pioneers had to sweat through some tense moments at the end of the third.
Needham trailed 5-2 when Lucas Davis and Jamie Arnao scored goals 32 seconds apart to make it a one-goal contest with 6:16 to play.
“You know these guys are a good team – they wouldn't be here if they weren't,” St. John's coach Brian Murphy said. “They showed a lot of heart, a lot of desire. You don't want to panic too much and I thought our goalie (Mario Pizzeri) did a good job of hanging in there the last five minutes.”
Duquette's goal made it 5-0 with 4:53 to play in the second period. Needham got on the scoreboard when D.J. Walsh blasted a slap shot past Pizzeri with 4.1 seconds to play in the second. It was Walsh's 16th goal of the season.
“They got one and then the momentum shifted and they started coming after it really hard,” Murphy said. “We were just trying to hang on their at the end. The big thing is we wanted the win and a chance to move on.”
Junior defenseman Brendan Joyce scored Needham's second goal. It came on a wrist shot from the left point 3:31 into the third.
“We just came out so slow,” Needham coach Bill Guisti said. “When you look at the games we've lost this year we've lost them by spotting other teams leads. We don't have a lot of firepower to try to come back.”
The loss dropped Needham's record to 16-5-1.
“Connor [senior goaltender Connor Murray] didn't have his best game tonight, but he's been great for us all year,” Guisti said. “The bad news is we lost the game. The good news is we live to play again. If we start out like we did tonight we're not gonna be around for much more than one more game, that's for sure.”
Duquette, a senior forward, assisted on three of the Pioneers' four goals in the opening 15 minutes. He entered the contest with nine goals and 12 assists in 22 games.
Emmerling also collected three assists in the victory. He leads the team in goals (25) and assists (23).
Emmerling and Duquette skate on a line with D'Amato, who also collected an assist.
“They're a very skilled line,” Murphy said. “The certainly can move the puck. They gave us the four-goal cushion. They're just good players.”
The victory extended St. John's unbeaten streak to 10 games (8-0-2). The Pioneers haven't lost since dropping a 4-0 decision to Hingham on Jan. 18.
The team's defense has been consistently good during the streak. St. John's allowed 16 goals during the 10 games.
“We moved a couple pieces of the puzzle and our goaltender started playing well,” Murphy said. “We started playing better team defense. I think that was the big thing. We know we can score goals, we just had to make sure we try to prevent some too.”