By Thomas Becker
Photo Janessa Hogan
The surging Panthers continued their inspired play on Wednesday night, defeating the Saint Mary's Huskies 3-1 for their third consecutive win.
After grinding it out for 49 minutes, the goals finally started to come UPEI's way. First it was Marcus Power, who scored the go-ahead goal on a penalty shot 9:39 into the third period. Kurt Etchegary then made it 2-0 with a nifty backhand before Husky Hunter Garlent trimmed it back to one. But it was too late as defenceman Nelson Armstrong added an empty-netter, sending the MacLauchlan Arena crowd home smiling.
With the win, the Panthers moved into a fourth-place tie with those same Huskies.
"It was a huge game against them," Power said. "We knew we were in last place coming into the second half, but we've been working hard and it's paying off."
Saint Mary's came in looking to separate themselves from the rolling Panthers, but UPEI wasn't going down without a fight.
On their first opportunity with the man advantage, the Panthers orchestrated a couple chances on a pair of one-timers by Armstrong, but the defenceman was unable to bury the puck home.
Goaltender Eric Brassard was sharp between the pipes turning aside any puck that reached him as the Panthers power play unit continued to generate chances midway through the period.
Despite spending nearly eight minutes on the power play, the Panthers were unable to muster a goal. Brassard's stellar play in net preserved the scoreless draw as he recorded nine stops in the first. Brassard finished with 27 saves in the loss.
"We just couldn't score on the power play," said Power. "We moved the puck around well, probably the best we have all year, we just couldn't get a goal."
UPEI's Matt Mahalak one-upped Brassard with 29 saves on the night, 10 of which came in the opening period.
In his last three games, Mahalak has been a force in net, going 3-0 with a .957 save percentage while allowing just three goals in 180 minutes of action.
"Matty was amazing tonight," said captain Brent Andrews. "He's been great since the break and he's been giving us a chance every night."
The goaltending and defence continued to be the story of the night as opportunities were hard to come by in the second period.
Saint Mary's had the best chance in the opening minutes of the frame when Anthony Repaci skated in alone, but was denied by Mahalak who made the sprawling stop.
The grind-it-out affair continued well into the third period before the Panthers got the chance they were looking for.
At 9:39, Beau McCue found Marcus Power on the break, but was hauled down, forcing the referees to award a penalty shot. Power didn't disappoint as he went five-hole to beat Brassard, giving the Panthers a 1-0 advantage.
"I always try that move in practice," Power said. "Half the time it doesn't work, but I got him to bite there and open up and I slid it in."
Just five minutes later, Darcy Ashley fired a pass from the left corner to Etchegary, who deposited the puck with the backhand snipe for his fourth of the season.
Garlent cut the deficit 2-1 for the Huskies late in the third, but the comeback was stifled as Armstrong helped secure the 3-1 win with the empty-netter.
The Panthers look to make it four in a row when they visit the Acadia Axemen on Jan. 13 at 7 p.m.