For the third time in their last six games, the Pilgrim and Toll Gate hockey teams got together on Friday at Thayer Arena. The result was a third Pilgrim victory, and the 4-1 margin was the largest yet.
But the takeaway for the Pats was that they've got some work to do.
"Quite frankly, I think we got lucky," said Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup. "I just told my guys, 'If we want to compete in the playoffs, we've got to step it up.'"
Pilgrim, which is now 7-8 in league play, won the first meeting between the teams 3-1 on Jan. 20, in a non-league game. On Feb. 2, both teams played some of their best hockey of the season in a 2-0 Pilgrim win.
The Pats hadn't been on the ice for a game since then, thanks to the snow storm that wiped out a full weekend slate, and they struggled to recapture their form. Leading scorer Dylan LeGarie rescued the Pats with two goals, and the team added two more late in the third period as the Pats broke open a 1-1 game.
"Toll Gate must have been like, 'Who are we playing?'" Tvenstrup said. "We played them two weeks ago and we played some of our best hockey. They played up to our level, their goalie stood on his head and it was a 2-0 game. I'll take that any day of the week. This was totally different. We came out flat."
The first period was scoreless, with Pilgrim getting nine shots and Toll Gate tallying eight. In the second, the Titans had several good shifts, but it was the Pats who broke through. With 5:27 left, Ryan Oatley chipped the puck out of the zone after a long Toll Gate possession. LeGarie chased it down and turned it into a scoring chance when he got a step on the Toll Gate defender. He didn't waste the opportunity, slicing in a back-handed shot for the 1-0 lead.
"The first goal was tough," said Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne. "Great zone possession time on our part. Dylan out-works a guy and gets a hard work goal. Not the prettiest thing, but that's what speed and effort will do."
The Titans responded. On a power play with 2:51 left, Steve Mathews carried the puck from the corner to the left post and ripped a shot on net. Devon Gamba made the save but the rebound kicked right to John Sullivan, who was open in front and buried a shot to tie the game.
The Titans threatened to take the lead less than a minute later when Mathews blasted a shot from the high slot, but it sailed high. The teams went to the locker room tied 1-1.
Pilgrim knew what it had to do.
"We wanted to try and play like we can play," Tvenstrup said.
Eventually, the Pats got it done. After Toll Gate generated several early chances, LeGarie won a battle for the puck in the defensive zone and carried it all the way to the other end. He beat goalie David Stachurski to give the Pats the 2-1 lead with 6:24 left. Liam Strain and Cory Casale assisted.
It was the 20th goal of the season for LeGarie, who ranks third in Division II in points.
"He's a goal-scorer, period," Tvenstrup said.
The goal was deflating for the Titans, who had been unable to take advantage of their early chances.
"I think we played okay," Champagne said. "That would be a good word for it. We made a few mistakes and Pilgrim made some adjustments and they played well. They made it hard on us. We didn't get that zone possession."
And soon enough, the Pats pulled away. With 4:42 left, Oatley took a pass after a face-off and buried a shot from the slot, with assists from Matthew Parente and Joey Paliotte. Just 41 seconds later, Strain took a pass on the right and punched a shot toward Stachurski. The puck glanced off the inside of Stachurski's left pad and trickled over the line.
"Up until six minutes left in the game, we were relying on our goal-scorer for our two goal lead," Tvenstrup said. "We took advantage on a couple of our shots late there, but the way we played tonight, it could have been different."
And the Pats will take that lesson into their final games. Starting Friday, they'll play three games in four days to close out the season.
"We have three games in four days next weekend - Friday, Saturday and Tuesday," Tvenstrup said. "We need those points. If we're going to make the playoffs, we need those points. We've got to show up."
The Titans, who are out of the playoff picture, will be trying to finish strong as they close the season against Cumberland and Rogers.
"Just finish strong and work hard," Champagne said. "They still come to practice ready and they're not defeated in there. They're frustrated. But we're going to keep after it."