There was a sudden moment of despair for the Pilgrim hockey team when Kevin Sullivan scored with 50 seconds left in the third period to give Middletown the apparent game-winning goal in the second game of the Division II quarterfinals on Saturday.
But when the referee came rushing over to wave off the goal because Sullivan was in the crease when he scored, the Pats suddenly had new life.
And even though it took them a while to take advantage, the Pats eventually made the most of the opportunity.
The game remained scoreless for the rest of regulation and through two overtimes, setting up a shootout to decide the outcome.
After Pilgrim got goals from Cody Weaver and Nick McGuirl in two of the first three rounds, sophomore Ryan Oatley beat Middletown goalie William Coogan to secure a dramatic 1-0 victory and send the Pats into the semifinals.
The win was the second in as many nights for Pilgrim, the No. 3 seed from D-II-North, as it swept the best-of-three series thanks to Saturday’s showing and a 4-0 win on Friday night.
The Islanders, who were seeded second out of D-II-South, scored just one goal on their four attempts in the shootout, as goalie Ian Giuttari made sure that the Pats’ three goals were enough to clinch the win.
“It was exciting,” Pilgrim head coach Dave Tober said. “Shootout in the playoffs? I can’t say it’s the way I think a game should end in the playoffs, but that’s what the rules are and that’s what we have to do. It was a lot of fun.”
Giuttari was dominant in net all night long, and he continued to come up big when it mattered most. Playing in his first-ever shootout at the high-school level, Giuttari didn’t even blink.
“Step out, cut down every angle and once they get in, if they deke you, poke check,” Giuttari said in describing his approach. “If they don’t, stop the puck.”
He stopped Middletown’s Kevin Nash on the Islanders’ first attempt in the shootout by forcing him wide of the net, and he then made a pad save on Michael Curtis to keep Middletown off the board through two rounds.
In the third round, Giuttari denied Philippe Caron before finally letting one get by him when Sullivan beat him in the fourth round.
For the game, Giuttari turned away all 29 shots he faced – which doesn’t count his shootout performance – on the heels of a 25-save performance on Friday.
“There’s not another goalie around here that I would rather have,” Tober said. “He’s been my guy for four years. We came into this program together, and he has been outstanding. I expect nothing less, but he’s outstanding. Back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs against a No. 2 seed, that says a lot.”
On the offensive end, the Pats got goals in the shootout from their top three scorers.
Weaver, who was seventh in the league with 40 points, scored to open the shootout on a backhand from the right side. After Coogan stopped Dylan LeGarie on Pilgrim’s second attempt, McGuirl, who was tied for the D-II lead with 51 regular-season points, converted on a move similar to Weaver’s.
That set up Oatley, who knew that if he scored, the game would be over.
“The amount of pressure is just unbelievable,” Oatley said. “So far, that’s the greatest highlight in my high school career.”
He skated hard at Coogan, then moved to the right and slipped it in along the near post for the game-winner, sending a packed Thayer Arena into a frenzy and setting off a wild celebration on the ice.
“That puck crosses the line, you can’t explain the feeling,” Oatley said. “You’re just overjoyed.”
It nearly didn’t happen that way, as Middletown outshot Pilgrim 24-19 in regulation, had the goal disallowed in the final minute and was given seven power play chances.
The Pats had to kill off two penalties in the final three minutes of regulation, and were still shorthanded when Sullivan’s goal was taken off the board.
“I’m not happy with the amount of penalties we took,” Tober said. “I think we have to understand what time of year it is and what level of discipline we need to achieve something in the playoffs.”
Back on their heels, simply hoping for overtime, the Pats withstood a barrage of shots at the end of regulation. Finally, Curtis made a pass from the left point to a cutting Sullivan, who one-timed the puck past Giuttari.
While Middletown celebrated against the boards, the referee immediately whistled for no goal.
“As I turned, I saw him in the crease, but I never expected that call to be made,” Giuttari said. “There’s actually a movie called ‘In the Crease,’ and it’s about that. It’s 0-0, a team scores one goal, but it’s called off because he was in the crease. The other team ends up winning. That’s what we did.”
In the overtime periods, Pilgrim looked much more in control.
McGuirl rang the post in the final minute of the first overtime, and Weaver did the same thing just seconds later.
The Pats then had a 5-on-3 opportunity towards the tail end of overtime and into the second overtime, but couldn’t get a puck past Coogan, who made 32 saves on the night.
Still, it was clear that Pilgrim was playing its best hockey of the night as the shootout began.
“It was really that 5-on-3 at the end, and after that we were all over them,” Oatley said. “It was do-or-die for us. We had that winner’s mentality. We wanted to practice Monday. We didn’t want to go all the way back to St. George’s.”
In the first game of the series, the Pats got a hat trick from McGuirl – including two in the third period – and a goal from Susie Cavanagh to set the pace. Bryant Palermo assisted on Cavanagh’s goal, while all three of McGuirl’s were unassisted.
Pilgrim, which lost in the quarterfinals to Cumberland a year ago, was unsure of who its semifinal opponent would be as of Monday.
The Pats will take on the winner of the Coventry-South Kingstown series. A decisive third game in that series was scheduled to be played on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time.
South Kingstown won the first game 3-2, while Coventry bounced back on Saturday to win 6-3.
Pilgrim’s series, against either team, will begin this coming weekend.
“It was a hard-fought two-game win,” Tober said. “It earns us the right to go to the next round. I couldn’t be happier.”