On Feb. 3, the Pilgrim hockey team trailed Cumberland by a goal heading into the third but came back with one of its best periods of the season and won 3-2.
In Monday’s rematch, there was no comeback.
The Pats hosted Cumberland in a Presidents Day matinee at Thayer Arena, gave up a goal in the first and another in the second and couldn’t put a rally together. Pilgrim did make a strong push in the final few minutes, but Cumberland held off the charge to win 2-0.
“Cumberland played the way they always play,” said Pilgrim head coach Dave Tober. “They played hard, very very hard for 45 minutes. It’s the type of hockey we can expect to see in the playoffs. Quite honestly, our sense of urgency wasn’t there until the last six minutes of the game, and that’s unacceptable.”
Pilgrim had won six straight league games heading into the weekend but had that streak snapped in a 4-1 loss to first-place Coventry on Friday night.
Monday’s loss actually hurt a little more in the standings. The Clippers were riding a four-game winless streak, but the victory over Pilgrim moved them into a tie with the Pats for second place in Division II-North. Cumberland has one game remaining, against Coventry. Pilgrim has two games – one against Coventry and the other against PCD/St. Ray’s/Wheeler.
After Monday, the Pats know what needs to change as they shoot for a strong finish.
“You can’t be satisfied with playing average to above-average hockey,” Tober said. “We’ve got to be playing our best hockey. It’s not the time of year to play 20 percent of the game and that’s pretty much how it worked out today. If we had played the whole game like we finished the game, then I think it might have been a little bit different.”
Cumberland came into Monday’s game off a 4-1 loss to Toll Gate but showed no ill effects in the early going. Just over seven minutes into the game, Andrew Dulac punched in a rebound off a Mike Kinch shot for the 1-0 lead.
In the second period, after Pilgrim had threatened, Kinch carried the puck the other way down the right side and beat Pilgrim goalie Ian Giuttari for the 2-0 cushion.
Kinch, the team’s leading scorer with 21 goals and 18 assists, had missed the Feb. 3 game against the Pats. His presence was clearly felt this time around.
“They had their best player back,” Tober said. “There’s no getting around that. He played very well today, and he’s one of the best players in the league. That very well could have been the difference.”
The Pats started to get their feet under them at the end of the second period and continued to push in the third period. On the first shift of the period, Joey Paliotte put a slap shot on net. The rebound kicked to Cody Weaver, but Cumberland goalie Patrick Noke was there for the save.
Later, Weaver and Nick McGuirl broke out on a 2-on-1, but Kinch came from behind to poke away a pass intended for McGuirl. Weaver and Ryan Oatley also got loose on a break, but Oatley couldn’t finish after getting a pass on the left post.
Noke ended up making 27 saves as Pilgrim was shut out for the first time all season.
“Offensively, we just really couldn’t find a rhythm tonight,” Tober said. “At the end of the game we did. When you hem in a good team like that, you’re obviously figuring something out offensively. We just couldn’t solve the goaltender.”
Ideally, the Pats would have given themselves some earlier chances to solve that puzzle.
“I thought we completely dominated the last 15-20 percent of the game,” Tober said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do that for the first 80 percent of the game and that’s clearly why we lost.”
The Pats also had some good stretches in Friday’s game against Coventry, but they weren’t enough. The Oakers have won 15 straight games since losing their season opener to Pilgrim, and they rolled on in the rematch.
Peter Stringfellow and Jacob Harrington had two goals apiece to lead the Oakers. Pilgrim got a goal from Weaver to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period, but Coventry scored three unanswered goals from there.
“They’re outstanding,” Tober said. “We took two irresponsible penalties and they scored on both those power plays. Other than that, it’s a 2-1 game, and if it’s 2-1 in the third period, who knows what happens? But you cannot take irresponsible penalties against a team like that. They are clearly the best team we’ve played and they’re playing much better than they were when we beat them at the beginning of the year. In my estimation, they’re the team to beat.”
With the playoffs set to begin March 2, the Pats hope to be in that conversation as well. They were scheduled to play a non-league game against Portsmouth on Wednesday before finishing up with PCD/Wheeler/St. Ray’s on Friday at Lynch Arena at 8 p.m. and Coventry on Saturday at 9 p.m. at Thayer Arena.
“We play all playoff teams the rest of the way, which is great,” Tober said. “We just have to up the competitiveness.”