By Thomas Becker
When the clock hit zeroes, there was a sigh of relief amongst the MacLauchlan Arena crowd, as the Panthers narrowly escaped with a 6-5 win over the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus.
For thirty minutes, the home team dominated the game, so much so that Moncton pulled their goalie in favour of their backup. The Panthers held a comfortable 5-1 lead before their opponent clawed to within a goal by the end of the second period. But in the end, the hole was just too deep to climb out of, as UPEI held on for their first win of the season.
Gabe Guertler and Kameron Kielly were the high-point men and the catalysts in the "must win" scenario. Guertler scored a pair of goals and recorded an assist, while Kielly had three helpers to go along with a goal.
"We started 0-2 which is tough, but I think we came out a lot stronger this game than the last two and we gave ourselves a good chance early on to get a win," said Guertler, who was named Subway Player of the Game.
In desperate search of a win, the Panthers came out flying, looking to redeem their home opener loss to those same Aigles Bleus.
UPEI wasted little time getting on the scoreboard as Guertler deposited the puck in traffic just four minutes in. Two minutes later, Moncton responded with a goal by Danick Crête.
At 11:20, fourth-year centre Sam Aulie redirected Cody Payne's shot from the left circle to restore the one-goal advantage, 2-1. A minute and half later, an oncoming Troy Lajeunesse scored his first AUS goal off a great feed from Guertler behind the goal line. The Panthers weren't done yet, as Nick Shumlanski sent a long pass through the neutral zone to Riley Whittingham, who roofed it glove side with five minutes to spare in the opening period.
After Guertler opened the second with a power play marker, Aigles Bleus head coach Judes Vallée saw enough and promptly removed Alexi Thibaudeau in favour of backup goaltender Jason Rioux. The Panthers let off the gas just enough to give Moncton some life and they responded with back-to-back goals by Marc-Anthony Therrien and Alexis Roy at 9:28 and 10:29, respectively. Maxime St-Cyr scored with the man advantage just four minutes later to cut the deficit 5-4.
"We still thought we were playing pretty well," said Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson. "When they scored to make it 5-2 and 5-3, we felt we had them hemmed in and they just came down with quick strike goals, which is often the case with Moncton."
Still, the Panthers carried a lead into the third and had no intention of leaving empty handed. Kielly cushioned their slim lead just minutes into the frame when he redirected a Doug Blaisdell shot from the point. That lasted only three minutes, as Robbie Graham responded with another Moncton goal at 6:35. The Aigles Bleus pushed for the equalizer, but couldn't find it as the Panthers came away with the 6-5 final.
"It shows what kind of team we have, that we're willing to work hard and keep pushing through even when we're facing adversity," Guertler said.
The Panthers look to make it two in a row as they get set to welcome the UNB Reds on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan