By Thomas Becker
Photo Janessa Hogan
Craig MacLauchlan's first goal of the season was a big one.
The third-year forward scored the decisive marker in the second period, leading the Panthers to a 2-0 win over the Saint Mary's Huskies Saturday night.
"It's key to get that first goal," said Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson, whose team ended a three-game skid. "It gives you a little bit of confidence and creates a lot of energy on the bench."
Beni Berisha recorded the assist on MacLauchlan's second-period tally, while Beau McCue added an empty-netter for his sixth goal of the campaign.
The opening minutes were chaotic, with lots of energy from both squads. But it was very much a back and forth affair, as each team struggled to keep the puck in their own offensive zone for any length of time. Other than a stretch save by Matt Mahalak, the attempts on goal were shrugged aside by both goaltenders.
Saint Mary's laboured through their first power play near the midway point, as the Panthers' penalty kill unit allowed only a weak wrister that was easily swallowed up by Mahalak.
The Huskies (11-12-1) again found themselves on a power play near the end of the period, but UPEI's penalty kill – that ranked sixth in the league prior to the game – came to play Saturday night and eliminated the threat.
"Every time you're on the penalty kill, your best penalty killer is the goalie and Matty did a good job tonight," MacPherson said.
With the man advantage, Nelson Armstrong nearly put his Panthers (9-11-4) ahead early in the second period with a laser beam, but fired it off the crossbar as the puck flew out of the rink to a lucky fan.
A harmless play behind the net turned into a nightmare for Saint Mary's at 10:04, when Berisha forced a turnover on the forecheck, leading to MacLauchlan's goal.
Down one, the Huskies ramped up their intensity, firing away at Mahalak, who continued to deny the road squad. Mahalak was beat on one occasion, but the puck hit iron to keep his perfect outing intact. The goaltender recorded his third shutout of the season, stopping all 29 shots he faced.
"He had a really good weekend," MacPherson said. "He made key saves when we needed it most. It was big effort from him."
After allowing the game's opening goal, Eric Brassard closed the period, making a series of saves on the surging Panthers, who carried the slim 1-0 lead into the third.
Brassard continued to regain his form in the period, where the Panthers fired at will, but couldn't add to their lead.
Marcus Power was assessed a four-minute penalty for high sticking, but the Huskies still couldn't generate any offence, as the one-goal deficit continued to stare them in the face.
Then it was the Panthers' turn on the power play. While they were successful in creating opportunities, it wasn't enough to beat Brassard, who made a couple big stops to keep the game close.
The Huskies squandered opportunities throughout the game with the man advantage, finishing 0 for 5 on the night.
McCue tacked on an empty-netter in the dying seconds, as the Panthers came away with the 2-0 final.
The Panthers three-game homestand continues on Jan. 25 when they take on the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus. Puck drops at 7 p.m.