STONEHAM, Mass. - St. John's Prep had five days to stew over what it felt was a lackluster performance in the opener of the best of three series against Central Catholic. From the opening faceoff of game two, it was obvious that the Eagles no intention of allowing such a dismal showing to rear up again.
Justin Longo, Nic Gianelli and Jack McCarthy had the goals as the top-seeded Prep unleashed a 42-shot barrage and forced a deciding game three with a 3-1 victory over the Raiders at Stoneham Arena Friday night.
The two teams will return to Stoneham once more on Sunday to decide who will advance to take on Austin Prep in the semifinals.
"Coach [Kristian Hanson] decided we'd watch film the day after after the game instead of practicing, which was a great idea," explained Prep star Brian Pinho. "We got to see how bad we looked. We learned from that and next practice, everyone was focused on moving their feet and getting pucks to the net. I think [Thursday], getting the game canceled, it was another day for us to get the Sunday night game off our mind and focus on tonight.
The first period ended in a scoreless draw but it wasn't from a lack of effort on behalf of St. John's Prep (18-3-1), who swarmed the puck, the neutral zone, the defensive zone - you name it - and piled up 15 shots over the first 15 minutes.
The barrage continued in the second, but Central Catholic (15-6-3) goalie Colin Soucy almost singlehandedly fended off the onslaught by himself, making a number of highlight reel stops in the face of relentless Eagles' pressure. The junior would finish with 39 saves.
"At least 39, a couple of those you might want to count two or three times," laughed Raiders coach Mike Jankowski, only half joking. "He made some unbelievable stops and gave us every chance to win. Fantastic. Can't really say...I mean...you had to actually see some of the stops. The backdoor in the second period...just amazing. He gave us every opportunity to win the game as poorly as we played."
Despite a massive disparity in shots and time of possession, it was Central who got on the board first. Lloyd Hayes pounced on a careless giveaway deep in the Eagles' zone and sniped a shot to the upper right corner for a shorthanded goal at 8:07.
Backs clearly against the wall and facing elimination, the Prep wasted little time in responding as Longo went screaming through the middle of the Raiders zone and buried his chance to tie the game just 22 seconds later.
St. John's Prep kept the pressure on, desperately looking for any way of breaking through Soucy, who was in the midst of another magnificent performance. On one hand, you had to wonder if the Prep would ever get anything past Soucy, but on the other, it seemed like it had to be a matter of time before they did given the quantity and quality of their chances.
Break through the Prep finally did as Gianelli hustled down the rebound of his own initial shot and pushed his team in front for the first time in the postseason with 5:20 left to play. Soucy continued to keep his team alive, stoning Pinho on a breakaway bid and turning aside several other quality looks but Central pulled him for an extra skater with 1:31 remaining, McCarthy iced the win with an empty-netter at 13:54.
"I think we were a little bit embarrassed by our performance on Sunday," admitted Prep head coach Kristian Hanson. "We certainly didn't give our best effort on Sunday. You can blame it on a number of different factors but we didn't come out, we didn't play well. That's on us. All we wanted to do tonight, win or lose, was come out here, give our best effort and at least say we left it all out on the ice if we didn't win. Fortunately we did."