BOSTON – No one knew it at the time, but before the game really started it was over.
A pair of goals in the opening three minutes were all Austin Prep would need as it held on to defeat Central Catholic 2-1 in the opening game of their first round series in the Super 8 at TD Garden.
Bobo Carpenter got the Cougars rolling with a high wrist shot that beat Central's Colin Soucy just 41 seconds into the game. Jake McKenelley slid one home through Soucy's five-hole two minutes and 10 seconds later.
“We just wanted to come out as hard and fast as we could,” Carpenter said. “We knew we'd have to get the first jump so we could build off of it. My linemates got the puck. Just got a lucky bounce for me.”
The early lead allowed Austin to set the tone early. The Cougars outshot the Raiders in the first and kept Central on its heels. The Raiders controlled the final two periods but were unable to dig themselves out of the hole.
Christian Thompson stepped up to the moment and scored Central's lone goal, hacking the puck out the air with just over a minute remaining in the game.
“Honestly I don't think our team showed up to play in the very beginning,” Thompson said. “We gave a half effort in the beginning; in the end we kind of picked it up but it was too late. I think we let the Garden get in our head a little bit. Hyped it up and kind of came out flat.”
After rejiggering the lines over the last month-plus, Central coach Mike Jankowski settled back into the line pairings he used for much of the first half of the season. Jankowski reunited Lloyd Hayes, Alex Lester, and Corey Webber on the Raiders’ top line.
The last time Austin and Central played on Feb. 3, the Cougars won 3-2 with Central in the midst of juggling it's lines. With the old lines back the Raiders looked to have some of the zip that powered them to an 8-1-1 record at the start of the season.
“We changed it up quite a bit to get people scoring to show our true depth,” Jankowski said. “If you see us play you know that we're deep. The goal [was] in getting everyone into the scoring and finding the scoring touch and it worked really well. Blue's back together and those guys, with their senior leadership, leading by example as well can carry us through to something.”
The Raiders pressed hard in the third period, peppering AP goalie Elijah Harris with 15 shots, but ran into a brick wall.
Harris turned aside 27 Raider shots, including three in frenetic last-minute flurry, to secure the win.
“When he's on he's on,” Austin Prep defenseman J.J. Layton said. “It starts from him, onto the [defense], and onto the forwards. When he's playing well it seems like everyone else is playing well.”
AP DEFENSE RISES: Central's old lines started to roll, but Austin Prep's defense was able to stall them out at almost every turn. Layton and Andrew Cross led the charge on the back end for the Cougars. The Prep defense was able to congest the middle and force Central's forwards to the outside.
Despite allowing 23 shots over the last two periods, the Austin defense was able to hold Central off.
“We're mostly a defensive team,” Layton said. “We have all the offensive components, so we stress on the defense now because defense wins hockey games, as coaches say. We just buckled down, tried to take the body when we can, make the quick, easy plays, and try to keep it out of our zone the best we can.”
The defense carried over onto the penalty kill. The Cougars killed off four of the five penalties they committed.
“We did a real nice job on penalty kill,” AP head coach Louis Finocchario said. “I thought our pairs did a real nice job.”
SAME OLD OPPONENT: Adding in next Thursday's second game of the series, Central and Austin will have played three times in 31 days and four times this season. Playing against the same opponent so often opens up doors for rivalries to form and lessens the room for errors.
“What it comes down to now is little things,” Finocchario said. “Good line changes, staying disciplined, making dumps when you don't have odd-man rushes: all good choices. The team that makes the least mistakes at the end of the night is going to win.”
So far Austin holds a 2-1 edge in the wins department while Central had outscored the Cougars, 7-6.
“It gives you that much more reason to win,” Carpenter said. “We've grown a little rivalry ever since. It's just fun to play with some friends too.”