The Reading Royals put a strangle-hold on the Stockton Thunday by winning the first three games of the ECHL Championship Series.
In Game one, the Royals defeated the Stockton Thunder, 6-5, in overtime in Game One of the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Championship Final match-up between the Royals and Thunder at the Sovereign Center in Reading.
Reading scored first and held four different leads in regulation time; but could not hold off the Thunder on any of those. It was the team’s fifth lead of the game—9:42 into overtime on a goal Nikita Kashirsky—that proved decisive. For Reading it was also the fifth overtime win of the playoff season (5-1), tying an ECHL record which was established by Stockton (who are 5-2 in overtime) with their decisive OT win over the Alaska Aces in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Reading broke through early. Ethan Cox, who was called for a goaltender interference penalty just 1:15 into the game, came storming out of the penalty box and punched back the rebound of a Julien Cayer back-hander out of the right circle after Olivier Roy (OTL, 12-5-2, 43/49) made a pad save on the original shot. Stockton tied things at one 7:32 into the first when Shawn Wellar won the battle for a loose puck at the right side of the Royals crease after Riley Gill (win, 10-2-1, 25/3) stopped the original shot from the left point by Nathan Deck. For Weller, that proved his seventh of the playoff season.
Reading took their second lead of the game 1:24 into the second period, when Mark Mitera fired from the left point, and Nikita Kashirsky angled a deflection from just below the left hash-mark that hit the left pipe, the cross-bar and the right pipe before falling to the right side of the crease, where T.J. Syner swiped it home for his sixth of the playoff season. The Thunder re-tied the game (this time at two) on a power play one-timer off the top of the left circle by Harrison Reed 10:01 into the second frame.
The third period saw the see-saw battle between the Royals and Thunder escalate to epic proportion. The wild final frame kicked off with Stockton taking their first lead of the game 6:27 into the third when Gill juggled a shot from the high slot by Matt Reber and a driving Eric Hunter somehow forced the fluttering puck in for his third of the playoff season. Reading re-tied the game 9:18 into the third period, when Patrick Wellar freed the puck off the left wing wall to Yannick Tifu who drove down and through the left circle, ripping a bullet low short-side on Roy to make it three-three. The Royals took their third lead of the game 14:50 into the third period, when Tifu threaded one out of the left corner to the top of the crease where Nikita Kashirsky forced it through the legs of Roy for his fourth of the playoff season. That lead lasted all of 18 seconds. At 15:08 Nathan Deck ripped one from the left circle that tied the game for the fourth time at four. Reading took lead number four with just 47.5 seconds left when Alex Berry beat a loose puck through from the left side of the crease while the Royals were on the power play. But Stockton simply would not go away. In fact, with just 21.3 seconds left in regulation, Ryan Hayes deflected a shot by Andrew Clark out of the right circle that slipped by Gill and hit the right pipe and went in to tie the game for the fifth time at five-five.
However, the Royals fifth lead proved to be the charm. Gill started the rush with a long pass from the defensive zone to a breaking Yannick Tifu, who ended up with four points on the night (1g-3a). Tifu carried the puck to below the goal line, where Kashirsky took over. Kashirsky stepped from below the goal line into the left circle, turned and wheeled 360 degrees and ripped a snapper across the body of Roy high glove for his second of the night and first playoff overtime game winner as a Royal.
In Game Two, the Royals defeated the Stockton Thunder, 4-0.
For the twelfth time in eighteen games played the post-season, the Royals scored first (11-1-0) and proceeded to build a three goal first period lead, while holding off the Thunder to record the team’s fifth shutout of the playoff season. It was the third shutout of the post-season for goaltender Riley Gill (win, 11-2-1, 27/27), and his sixth shutout in twenty-eight appearances for Reading since joining the team on February 28, 2013.
The Royals struck first 8:32 into the first off the rush, when Ethan Cox sprang Evan Barlow through the left circle. Barlow found Alex Berry coming down the middle for a re-direct to extend his personal point streak to seven games with his seventh game of the playoff season.
The Royals stretched the lead to 2-0 after a long sequence of offensive zone puck possession. Brett Flemming kept a clearing attempt by the Thunder at the right point and drilled a low, hot bullet that beat Olivier Roy (loss, 12-6-2, 23/27, 40:00) for his fourth of the playoff season.
Reading broke through on the power play with 1:37 left in the first. Joel Champagne was the beneficiary of a turnover by the Thunder in the mid-slot. Champagne fed Brock Shelgren in the left circle; and Shelgren in turn slipped a cross crease pass to T.J. Syner who redirected it home for his seventh of the playoff season.
Reading took a four-nothing lead 15:11 into the second period just as a power play chance ended when Evan Barlow fired from deep in the right corner along the goal-line. The puck hit the stick of Roy and angled into the net for Barlow’s sixth of the playoff season.
Stockton substituted goaltender Tyler Bunz (no decision, 7/7, 20:00) for Roy in what proved to be a scoreless third period as the Royals were able seal off defensively and record the win.
In Game 3, the Royals defeated the Stockton Thunder, 3-1.Reading fell behind in the first, but battled back to gain a 1-1 tie after one—and held that position through a scoreless second; and for the fifth time in the post season (5-0-0) and the seventeenth time this year (17-2-1-0), Reading pulled out the win when entering the third tied with the opposition—this time on the second goal of the night (a tie-breaking game winner) by the team’s captain, Yannick Tifu.
For the first time in the series, Stockton struck first 8:37 into the opening frame while the teams were playing four aside. Defenseman Mike Little sprang Harrison Reed, who split the Royals defenders at the offensive blue line, on a clean breakaway. Reed froze Riley Gill (win, 12-2-1, 28/29) with a solid forehand-backhand move and finished for his ninth of the playoff season.
Reading tied things up 11:18 into the first. A counter-punch odd-man rush started by Ethan Cox hit pay dirt when T.J. Syner slipped a perfect saucer from the right circle to a spot low in the left circle, where a charging Yannick Tifu ripped it by Olivier Roy (loss, 12-7-2, 20/22) for his eleventh of the year.
After a scoreless second, during which Stockton outshot Reading 13-6 (and had several golden scoring chances—particularly on the power play), the Royals got what proved to be the game winner on a carbon copy of their first goal of the game. Again it was Syner who picked off a pass in the Royals’ defensive zone and broke hard through the neutral area. He blew by everyone, carried down the right wing side into the offensive zone and slipped a perfect cross-ice saucer to the charging Tifu, who buried his twelfth of the playoffs—and his league leading fifth game winning goal of the post season. After weathering a strong late push by the Thunder, Reading iced things with 6.6 seconds left on an empty netter by Kirk MacDonald.