The Missouri Mavericks’ weekend series against the Quad City Mallards proved to be a microcosm of the most successful team in the ECHL this season.
A standout performance in the net, timely goals and solid all-around play helped Missouri take a 2-0 lead over the Mallards in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
The series moves to Moline, Ill., for the next three games (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, if necessary), with play beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the iWireless Center.
Josh Robinson faced a 21-shot barrage in the first period of Saturday night's 6-3 victory, finished with 38 saves and earned praise from his coach and teammates following a Game 1 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
The Mavericks turned the defensive intensity up a notch Sunday as Parker Milner starred in goal for the Mavericks, stopping 28 shots in a nail-biting 2-1 victory.
"We have two No. 1 goalies and we're going to start the playoffs using both of them," Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk said after Sunday’s win. "Robo was amazing Saturday. He faced 21 shots in the first period. He stood on his head to keep us in the game.
"And Milner was so solid tonight. That's his old team, and you know how much he wants to beat his former teammates. Both goalies were fantastic this weekend and we expect them to continue playing like that."
Reed Seckel scored the first goal Sunday when he beat Mallards goaltender Brody Hoffman with a high wrist shot over his right shoulder. David de Kastrozza and Josh Holmstrom were credited with assists.
"The season is a marathon and the playoffs are a sprint," Seckel said. "It was so important to win the two games this weekend. Josh and Parker were great in the net and we found a way to beat a very good team."
Holmstrom then gave the Mavs a 2-0 lead with a 360-degree move from on his knees in front of the crease, beating Hoffman's glove-side. Darian Dziurzynski and de Kastrozza set up the play at the 9:45 mark of the second period that had the crowd begging for more.
"I got a nice pass from Z (Dziurzynski) and was able to put it in the back of the net," Holmstrom said. "There is a lot of hockey left to be played, but it's huge to win the first two games at home. That's why we worked so hard this season to get home ice in the playoffs."
Quad City's Sam Warning made the game interesting when he took a pass from behind the net and slipped it past Milner at 5:56 of the third period, but the Mavericks’ defense buckled down and blanked the Mallards the rest of the night.
"We got the two wins here and now we have to go to their place Wednesday and get that third win, which is usually the toughest win of a series like this," Milner said. "It was big to play well against my former teammates. I still have a couple of friends on the team and we all wanted to play well today to get that 2-0 lead heading to their place."
Milner got in a shoving match with Jordan Knackstedt late in the game after the Mallards forward was called for slashing the Mavericks goalie.
"I was pretty fired up," Milner said. "I mainly wanted the officials to know I'd been slashed a lot in the game. That's just playoff hockey – a lot of intensity out there."
Robinson, who was named the Warrior Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Year last week, was a difference maker in Saturday's victory.
"You do what you have to do to win games," said Robinson, who gave up a goal to Matt Carey just 1:49 into Saturday's opener. "I worked hard out there – we all worked hard out there. Welcome to playoff hockey. They came into our place and gave us everything they had. We expect that from Quad City in every game."
Darren Nowick tied the game 1-1 on just the Mavericks’ second shot of the period.
Tyler Barnes gave the Mavericks a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal. He redirected a long-range blast from Bryce Aneloski to get the puck past Hoffman at the 14:16 mark of the first.
Carey scored his second goal, also a power-play effort, to knot the score at 2-2, wrapping up a dynamic first period of playoff hockey.
Quad City gained the lead just 15 seconds into the second period during another man-advantage situation that carried over from the first. Knackstedt was credited with the power-play tally that gave the Mallards 3-2 edge.
Then at the 3:39 mark on another power play, Courtney launched a shot past Hoffman that originally went undetected by the officials but did not escape fan attention. After review, the Mavericks were awarded the game-tying goal with defenseman Jesse Graham and the goalie Robinson claiming assists.
"The officials didn't see it," Matvichuk said after Courtney's blast ripped through the back of the net and ricocheted off the wall behind the net, "and they did a nice job with the review. It was evident from the (television) replays that it was a goal, but the officials don't have access to the replay."
The strangest goal of a night that featured many oddities, was the eventual game winner as Zach Tolkinen hit a high shot that Hoffman caught – for a moment. The puck slipped out of his glove and into the net.
"A strange goal for sure," Tolkinen said, "but I'll take it. Welcome to playoff hockey. Courts rips a puck through the back of the net and I hit one off the goalie's glove and it bounces into the net. It's crazy."
Chris Owens scored a shorthanded empty net goal with 1:35 left, and Holmstrom added another empty-netter with 9 seconds left to seal it.
"A big, big win," said Courtney, the veteran forward who scored the first-ever ECHL playoff goal for the Mavericks seven seasons ago. "Robo was amazing, just amazing. And we found a way to win. That's what you have to do in the playoffs and that's what we have to do when we go to Quad City to play them on their ice. We can't let up, we worked too hard all season to get home ice. We have to take advantage of every opportunity we get to win."
BRABHAM CUP: The Mavericks were presented with the Henry J. Brabham Cup during the second intermission of Saturday's game. ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna was on hand to present the regular-season points championship trophy to general manager Brent Thiessen. The Mavericks finished the regular season with 109 points and an overall record of 52-15-3-2.