In order to have a realistic shot at making the postseason, the Pilgrim hockey team knew it had to put together two solid performances going into this past weekend.
The Pats did even better than that – they had their best two-game stretch of the season.
On Friday, Pilgrim upset playoff-bound North Kingstown 5-3 thanks to a hat trick from Dylan LeGarie, goals from Sam Adamo and Ryan Oatley and 27 saves in goal by Devon Gamba. The next night, the Pats rode LeGarie and Gamba again and earned their first shutout of the season with a 2-0 victory over rival Toll Gate.
“A four-point weekend was huge,” Gamba said. “We need these last couple of games to get the eighth spot or the seventh spot in the playoffs. We’re playing together, we’re playing as a team. Hopefully another four-point weekend next week.”
Winning twice thrust Pilgrim right back into the thick of things in the Division II postseason hunt. The Pats are currently 6-8, and are in 10th place overall with four games remaining. Eight teams qualify for the postseason.
Those four games are against teams with a combined 10-40 record, giving Pilgrim a good opportunity to make up some ground and sneak into the playoffs.
“With our schedule going in, if we play well, we’ll make the playoffs,” Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup said. “We’ll have to squeeze our way in there.”
Toll Gate, on the other hand, will need to win out and get quite a bit of help if it’s going to make the playoffs. The Titans dropped to 3-10 with the loss to Pilgrim.
“We’ve got to win as many games as we can,” Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne said. “That’s all we can focus on. We’ve just got to do our job.”
The Titans did hang tough against the Pats. Pilgrim got a goal from LeGarie just 4:29 into the game – thanks to a perfect pass from Liam Strain behind the net – to take a 1-0 lead, and continued to dictate the play.
Yet, the Pats couldn’t get another puck past Toll Gate goalie David Stachurski.
Stachurski made acrobatic save after acrobatic save, as he turned away 33 shots on the day.
“He felt good coming in today, and he played like it,” Champagne said of Stachurski. “He did everything he could to give us a chance to win tonight.”
But even with Stachurski standing on his head, Toll Gate couldn’t take advantage on the other end. Gamba wasn’t tested often, as he had to make just 14 saves on the night, but he did what he had to do when the Titans did get a shot on net.
More often than not, though, the Pilgrim defense was able to clear the puck before Toll Gate ever reached Gamba. Toll Gate took seven shots in the first period, but took only a combined seven shots in the final two.
“Defensively, from the goaltender out, we played a good defensive zone game,” Tvenstrup said. “We didn’t give them a lot of chances. They have a couple weapons, and we made sure we kept them to the outside, and didn’t leave anyone open in front of the net.”
Neither team could get anything going on the power play either, as Pilgrim committed seven penalties and Toll Gate committed eight, none of which resulted in a goal.
Because of that, the game was 1-0 most of the way. The Pats, who desperately needed the win, just couldn’t build on their lead. Stachurski was always there.
“Their goaltender, that’s the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Tvenstrup said. “He’s come a long way. I give him all the credit. Without the way he played, that game’s 5-0, 6-0.”
Finally, with 5:19 left in the game, Pilgrim got the insurance goal it needed to breathe a little easier. Adamo slipped a pass from just behind the goal on the left side across the slot to LeGarie, who caught it on his stick and wristed it in. It was LeGarie’s 18th goal of the season, tying him for fifth in D-II.
“Everybody showed up to play,” Gamba said. “Everybody was here, everybody wanted to play. Everybody wanted to win. We’re playing as a team.”
Two minutes later, Pilgrim had a chance to seal the game when it was awarded a penalty shot after a player covered the puck up in the crease. LeGarie did the honors, but his shot was turned away by Stachurski, keeping it 2-0.
It didn’t matter. The Pats’ defense never let Toll Gate seriously threaten again, and they finished the job. Pilgrim has allowed 66 goals on the season – the second-most in D-II – so a shutout was a big step in the right direction.
“Their D did a good job standing us up at the blue line,” Champagne said. “Then when we did get shots, they did a good job of cleaning up in front of their net. Their goalie did a good job of mopping up pucks.”
Now the Pats will turn their attention toward finishing the season strong and getting back to the playoffs for the third straight year. On Friday, they’ll take on 2-11 South Kingstown at 8 p.m. at Benny Magiera Rink in West Warwick.
The next night, Pilgrim will play 2-10 PCD/Wheeler at 8 p.m. at the same rink.
The following weekend, Pilgrim will play Toll Gate again before ending the season against 3-9 Mt. Hope on Feb. 23.
“Looking at the standings, looking at the schedule, we have a good shot,” Tvenstrup said. “We just have to play well in.”
Toll Gate, on the other hand, will have some challenges. It will take on 9-6 North Kingstown on Friday at 9 p.m. at Thayer and then play 9-3-1 Cumberland at Thayer on Saturday at 7 p.m.