In the Missouri Mavericks’ biggest games of the season, you expect monstrous things from Sebastien Thinel, Eric Castonguay and Andrew Courtney.
They combined for eight points Friday night at the Independence Events Center as the Mavericks topped Arizona 5-3 in the opening game of their first-round, best-of-seven CHL playoff series.
But no one expected Dave Pszenyczny's first shot of the night to be a short-handed goal against Andrew Engelage, the CHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
And the intensity level crackled and popped throughout the Events Center as the feisty Sundogs refused to back down after Missouri took what appeared to be a commanding 5-1 lead.
“Welcome to the playoffs,” Mavericks coach Scott Hillman said as his top-seeded squad made sure it took care of business on home ice. “Every game is huge – especially the first one. If we don't win tonight, we have three at our place and they have three at their place – the home ice advantage is gone.
“Chezy getting the short-handed goal was huge and you have just come to expect big things from Thinel (goal and assist), Castonguay (goal and three assists) and Courts (goal and assist). But everyone contributed tonight.
“We kept our composure when things got chirpy out there and Shane (Owen) was amazing. He did tonight what he has been going all season. He made the saves he had to make and some that you couldn't believe. We might still be playing if he had not stood on his head a couple of times in the net.”
The top-seeded Mavericks take a 1-0 lead into Sunday's 6:10 p.m. second game of the series at the Events Center.
“You enjoy tonight and get back to work for Sunday's game,” said Thinel, whose goal at 3:01 of the second period turned out to be the game-winner. “It was an intense game, that's for sure. And the difference was our special teams. We scored two power play goals and a short-handed goal and they could only score one power play goal (on five power play opportunities).
“And Shane showed what he means to this team. We played so well the first two periods, then they score the two goals in the third period and make it a 5-3 game, and he just takes the game over. They had so many chance to tie the score and he would not allow them to score.”
But Owen, who stopped 29 of 32 shots on goal, said the defense rallied around him all night long.
“(Colten) Hayes, (Matt Stephenson) Stevie, (Trevor) Kell – those guys were all over the place making blocks,” said Owen, who lost out to Engelage, his former Utah Grizzlies teammates, by two votes in the CHL Goaltender of the Year voting. “I keep in touch with Andrew, but I can't concern myself with what's going on in the other net. I have too much on my mind making sure they don't score. For anyone who has never played in or seen a playoff game and experienced that intensity, this is what the playoffs are all about.
“They showed me a lot by never giving up, even when we were ahead 5-1. They just kept coming after us. When they scored the two goals in the third period, our intensity level rose. We weren't going to give them another goal – no way.
“But it was intense. It was so intense, and they were so many things go on out on the ice. They were coming after us, and Coach warned us about that. We didn't let them intimidate us, or make us do something stupid.”
In fact, Pszenyczny grinned when asked about all the times he simply smiled in a Sundogs player's face and skated away.
“Getting the first goal, getting our fans in the game, getting the early momentum was huge,” Pszenyczny said. “But we knew we had to keep our cool. They were going after Courts and Sebbie and emotions were running pretty high.
“But it's the playoffs, and you expect high emotions. You just can't do anything stupid. You smile and skate away and now, we can enjoy this win. But we can only enjoy it tonight, because tomorrow we start thinking about Sunday's game.”
Pszenyczny, Mike Ramsay and Castonguay scored in the first period before former Maverick Brandon Coccimiglio cut the lead to 3-1 with a goal at the 17:10 mark. Thinel and Courtney scored at the 3:01 and 7:28 marks in the second period to make it 5-1.
Coccimiglio assisted on David Rutherford's goal in the third period. Shawn Limpright scored at 6:13 of the third period, but that would be the last time an Arizona player found the back of the net.