HEARST – Tyler Masternak stopped all 40 shots he faced to backstop the Timmins Rock to a 5-0 win over the Lumberjacks and a berth into the NOJHL’s East Division semi-finals Wednesday night at the Claude Larose Arena.
It was the second-straight victory for the Rock at the Claude Larose Arena after they failed to win in the building in four regular-season attempts and it gave the Rock a 2-1 victory in the best-of-three series.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
The trend of the road team emerging victorious continued for the third-straight game, but the Rock finally found an answer for their second-period struggles against the Lumberjacks.
After being outscored 5-0 in the first periods of Game 1 and Game 2 of the series, the Rock took a 2-0 lead in the middle frame of Game 3 Wednesday night after a scoreless opening 20 minutes.
“We tried to manage the puck a bit better, not dump as many pucks and have them break out of their own zone so easily,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“Our guys did a pretty good job of that and keeping the game in front of them. We were able to keep our pace the entire game, as well, which was very important.
“The Lumberjacks have a very fast and skilled team, so that was huge for us.”
The score remained deadlocked at 0-0 after the first period thanks in large part to the strong play of Masternak, as the Rock were outshot 17-11.
“Obviously, any time you get the kind of goaltending we got tonight from Tyler Masternak, it is going to help no matter how you play,” Beer said.
“The first five or seven minutes were a little hairy for us. It is a tough building and the crowd was going wild. It was really loud and they came at us with their best start of the series.
“Without the key goaltending we got from Tyler, this game could have gone a different way. I have to give a lot of credit to him and our defence for blocking a ton of shots.”
A pair of goals just over three minutes apart in the second period gave the Rock a lead they would not surrender.
Evan Kentish-Stack — who scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 1 of the series — netted what would prove to be the game-winning goal Wednesday night at the 5:44 mark of the middle frame.
Jace Soroko’s first goal of the playoffs then increased the visitors’ advantage to a pair of goals.
“Those goals kind of silenced the crowd a little bit, but they got themselves back into it in the third period and tried to rally their team,” Beer said.
“Scoring first was huge for us though. On the road, we weren’t trying to play to impress anybody. We just wanted to try and keep things simple.
“It may sound like a cliché, but keeping things simple on the road, managing pucks and keep bodies in front of us, it is going to lead to success for us.
“So, that was important for us to be able to take the crowd out of the game.”
The Rock were able to expand their lead to 3-0 early in the third period on Tyler Gilberds’ first goal of the playoffs.
Veteran Rock forward Wayne Mathieu then provided the final two nails in the Lumberjacks’ coffin when he scored his first goal of the playoffs at the 8:26 mark of the third period and followed it up with his second goal of the post season just over eight minutes later.
Beer was once again happy to see Kentish-Stack deliver his second game-winning goal, but felt that was only part of his contribution to the team’s success.
“Our staff was more impressed with all the stuff he did away from the puck,” he said.
“It is great that he was able to score those goals. Obviously, you need them to win hockey games, but his ability to block shots on the penalty kill is instinctive. In my opinion, he is the best penalty killer in the league.
“He is coming of age and there is a reason why he is an assistant captain. He is not a big guy, but he keeps banging. He is the consummate team player, that’s for sure.”
The coach was also happy to see Mathieu break through and score a pair of goals in the third period.
“He is playing the best hockey I have seen him play this entire season,” Beer said.
“He looks rejuvenated and healthy. He has been playing with a different cast of characters almost every night. He was playing with two kids tonight, but he knows how to show up in big games.
“That first goal he scored tonight was the icing on the cake. That was the put-away goal we needed and it took the wind right out of their sails.”
A number of other Rock players impressed their coach during Wednesday night’s victory, as well.
“(Jun Yi) Frank Zhong probably played one of his best games for us tonight,”
“He has got a big body and he blocked a lot of shots. Frederic Leclair-Pouw was also awesome on the back end. He has an active stick and he is going to be quite the player in this league.
“Shawn Sloan, who played forward last game, was inserted on the back end tonight and he played some key minutes. He was really good on the penalty kill.
“Up front, we got some good contributions from Stewart Parnell and Jordan Picard.
“You look at the guys who came into the lineup tonight, (Collin) McGuire and (Kobe) Barrette did a great job with the minutes they got.
“Tyler Gilberds is a skilled player and a guy who knows how to score. It was good to see him get on the scoreboard. He is a young player and it’s nice to see him get a little bit of confidence back.
“It was a complete team effort tonight. We don’t win this game without everybody rolling. That was huge for us.”
Beer agreed one of the keys to Wednesday night’s victory was the Rock’s ability to stay out of the penalty box.
“It was a big point of emphasis for us before we left for Hearst today,” he said.
“We had a video meeting while we had lunch and pointed out maybe during Game 2 we were playing a big too aggressively and trying to stir things up a bit too much. That’s not in our nature. We are a team that likes to play fast and responsible. We don’t have the size to be in there stirring things up.”
While Masternak faced 17 shots in the opening period, he viewed it as a good thing.
“It allowed me to get in the game pretty easily,” he said.
“Our team played pretty good defensively tonight after the first period. We shut them down through the middle. They had a lot of shots from the perimeter, which made my job easier.”
Masternak was able to breathe a little easier after the Rock scored two quick goals in the second period.
“Those were two huge goals for us,” he said.
“As soon as we got those two goals, I knew we could shut them down the rest of the way. We knew what we had to do in the third period to take this game.”
Masternak had a good feeling early on it was going to be the Rock’s night.
“Right off the hop, I felt really comfortable,” he said.
“I just knew we were on tonight.”
The goalie and Gilberds both started the season with the Voodoos, who will be the Rock’s opponents in the East Division semi-finals.
“Tyler and I are both really excited,” Masternak said.
“Hopefully, it will be a bit of payback for us. Going into this series, they don’t have an upper hand on us and we don’t have an upper hand on them. It is a fresh start come playoffs and we are ready for it.”
While the Rock were taking down the Lumberjacks in a three-game quarterfinal series, the Voodoos were sitting and waiting for their semi-final opponent to be decided.
“We have been on the ice for a while now and they haven’t played a game in a bit,” Masternak said.
“Hopefully, that will give us the upper hand coming into the series.”
Masternak, who recorded a pair of shutouts during the regular season, earned his second win of the playoffs while recording his first shutout of the post season with his 40-save effort.
Lumberjacks goalie Matt Kustra, who turned aside 33 of the 38 shots the Rock fired his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Masternak, Mathieu and Rock defenceman Shawn Sloan (one assist) … The Rock did not dress forward Riley Robitaille (serving a one-game suspension picked up in Game 2 of the series), forward C.J. Bradburn (upper-body injury), forward A.J. Campbell (undisclosed), forward Paul Spadafora (undisclosed), defenceman Eric Paquette (undisclosed), of defenceman Will Caston (undisclosed) … The Rock went 1-4 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Claude Larose Arena was 788 … Game 1 of the East Division semi-final between the Rock and the Voodoos will be played at the Powassan Sportsplex on Friday night. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will also be played in Powassan, Saturday night. Game 3 of the series will be played at the McIntyre Arena on Thursday, March 22, with Game 4 of the series also at the McIntyre Arena on Friday, March 23. Both of those contests will start at 7 p.m. If necessary, Game 5 would be played in Powassan on Sunday, March 25, Game 6 would be played in Timmins on Monday, March 26, and Game 7 would be played in Powassan on Wednesday, March 28.