For any jet lag or tired legs the Allen Americans might have carried into Silverstein Eye Centers Arena for Friday’s Game 1 against the Missouri Mavericks, they found the perfect jolt early on.
Defending ECHL Kelly Cup champion Allen, less than 48 hours removed from winning a first-round Game 7 in Idaho, scored just 70 seconds into the game off a fluky sequence, and that was enough for Riley Gill, who made 34 saves as the Americans upended the Mavericks 2-0 to start the Western Conference semifinal series.
The Mavericks had not played in a week, when they finished a first-round sweep of Quad City, and captain and former American Trevor Ludwig said the layoff could’ve been detrimental a bit. But he insisted the Mavs had plenty to build on for what he expects to be a long battle.
“Our whole goal was to jump on them early, but we’ve got to take away the good things from this,” Ludwig said. “We had just as many good chances, if not more.
“Giller, for them, played well. He’s big and he came out and challenged us. We knew it would be a battle and would go five, six or seven games – that we’d probably have to win a game or two at their place.”
Missouri goalie Josh Robinson – the ECHL Goaltender of the Year with a 1.88 goals-against average in the regular season – was just as worthy of a win. He made 25 saves but fell victim to a pair of unfortunate bounces.
Robinson likely felt he never had a fair shot to stop the Americans’ first goal, when Gregor Hanson got a long rebound and fired one in from straightaway 1:10 into the game.
Robinson had gone behind the net to play a puck and got tripped up as a teammate and an Allen player converged. He scrambled back to his feet and into the crease, but the Mavericks couldn’t collect and clear the puck before Robinson got his bearings straight.
Robinson immediately appealed to a referee but to no avail.
“The puck was between his skates, their guy tried to reach in and he pulled my leg out, and then the goal happened,” he said.
Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk said shortly after the game he had not seen a replay of the opening sequence.
“I’ll have to look at it,” he said. “I don’t know if it was incidental contact or goalie interference. I think we had a lot of chances. We just didn’t get a goal.
“Both goalies played well – just some crazy bounces that ended up in our net.”
In a chippy first period that featured 18 combined penalty minutes, the Mavericks couldn’t convert on four power plays and later missed on their only other power play more than midway through the third. Missouri had several hectic scrambles in the last two periods but couldn’t get a bounce like Allen.
Allen converted on a power play at 4:32 of the second, when Casey Pierro-Zabotel punched in a deflected puck out of the air. Rocco Carzo had been whistled for holding at center ice to give Allen the man advantage.
Gill denied any good rebound he happened to allow, and he particularly shined in denying a hard-charging Tyler Barnes late in the third.
If the Mavericks indeed were a bit sluggish after a week off, Matvichuk said it can’t be an excuse.
“We’ve got to rebound tomorrow and go back to work,” he said.
Ludwig said the Americans seemed more tired in the second and third periods and the Mavericks have to match them physically and possibly wear them down Saturday.
“They’re playing four games in five days with travel – they’ll be tired,” he said, “and we’ll come after them – hit them in the corners.”