TRURO – Still perfect.
© Joey Smith – Truro Daily News
Truro Bearcats forward Brandon Pye stands in front of Dieppe Commandos goalie Connor Wilkinson during Game 1 action in the MHL Kent Cup final series on Tuesday in Truro. The Bearcats won the contest 2-1.
Nine games into the Maritime Junior Hockey League playoffs and the Truro Bearcats haven’t a single blemish on their record.
The Bearcats got an early third-period goal from Daniel Perigo and a 31-save performance from Chris Festarini in a 2-1 win over the Dieppe Commandos in Game 1 of the MHL Kent Cup final on Tuesday.
“It’s a good way to start a series,” said Festarini, who was busiest in the second period, stopping all 15 shots he faced. “Game 1 is important, but so are all the other games, so we just gotta put that one behind us after tonight and move on.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday in Dieppe, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Game 3 is Saturday at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre in Truro, beginning at 7 p.m.
Neither team controlled much of a territorial edge in Tuesday’s contest, and while the visitors outshot their hosts 32-25, it was the Bearcats who had the better scoring opportunities throughout the game.
In fact, Commandos goaltender Connor Wilkinson foiled many prime chances, including a sick pad stop on a point-blank shot from Brandon Pye near the midway mark of the first period. He later made breakaway stops on Jacob Smith and Tyler Morrison to keep his team close.
At the other end, the Bearcats defended well and never gave up an odd-man rush all night, as the Commandos failed to generate any offense off the rush. Truro also kept Dieppe shooters to the outside and limited second-chance opportunities.
When the Commandos did threaten, which was largely on goal-mouth scrambles, Festarini was there to shut the door.
“The guys are doing a phenomenal job of keeping pucks to the outside and when they do get that Grade A chance, guys were diving in front of pucks; they’re not afraid of getting a little banged up and bruised up to make the block,” Festarini said.
The Bearcats scored the game’s first goal at 13:03 of the opening period when captain Phillip Fife took a pass from David Mosher and beat Wilkinson from the right side with a quick one-timer.
After a scoreless second, Perigo notched what turned out to be the winner at 3:35 of the third when he picked up a rebound in the slot and beat Wilkinson with a low shot during a delayed penalty call.
The Commandos, however, weren’t prepared to go quietly. Joel Blanchard gave the visitors life with a power-play marker with 4:29 remaining, as he corralled a loose puck and roofed a backhand to cut the deficit to one and set up a thrilling finish.
The Bearcats came up big on the penalty kill late in the game. With defenceman Ryan Moore in the box for tripping with 3:43 left, the Commandos launched a furious attack and spent most of the power play in the Truro zone, however, they failed to capitalize.
With Wilkinson on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute, the Commandos again buzzed and had the puck to the net multiple times, but couldn’t convert. Moore made a great sliding play in the final seconds to block a shot on a goal-mouth scramble to preserve the victory.
“I think we’ve got to put a little more traffic in front of the net, because we battled hard from start to finish,” said Blanchard. “I think we’ve just got to continue like that … because (Festarini) is a good goalie. So we have to crash the net and good things will happen, I think.”
Tuesday’s victory extended Truro’s post-season winning streak to nine games, following first- and second-round sweeps of Valley and Pictou County, respectively.
“We’re just sticking to basics,” Festarini said of his team’s playoff success. “We have a phenomenal coach in Shawn Evans and just great forwards and great D. I feel like everyone’s rolling, everyone’s playing well and things are going well right now.”
Attendance on Tuesday was 1,048.