No matter the magic he musters, a hockey goaltender cannot possibly always protect all 24 square feet of the net he guards, yet Gerald Coleman and Rob Madore seemed intent on disproving that notion Monday night inside Sullivan Arena.
With nothing less at stake than a pivotal series edge in Game 3 of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Finals, Coleman of the Alaska Aces and Madore of the Cincinnati Cyclones traded magnificent, jaw-dropping, improbable stops for the better part of three periods.
Finally, with just more than four minutes to play, Aces center Jordan Morrison finally cracked the spell cast by masked men, flicking his own rebound through traffic and propelling the Aces to a 2-0 victory before 5,773 screaming fans.
Furnished insurance by Tyler Mosienko’s first goal in nearly three months, just 2 minutes, 22 seconds after the Morrison strike, the Aces grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series for supremacy of the league two notches below the NHL. The series, between two franchises that have each won the Kelly Cup twice, now moves to Ohio for Friday’s Game 4.
Yet Coleman, who snubbed 30 shots for his first shutout this postseason, and Madore, who made 32 saves, remained the game’s two most compelling figures, even though they are opposites.
Coleman, 29, is a nine-year veteran of the pro game who came out of the Canadian major-junior ranks, stands 6-foot-5 and is at his best when his movements appear as calm as still waters. Madore, 26, is a second-year pro from the U.S. college ranks, a frenetic battler and appears to be his listed 5-11 only in his dreams.
After the teams skated through a tepid first period — “The feeling-out process, the nervousness,’’ Coleman said — both goalies were marvels the rest of the way.
“Both guys,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray, “were unreal.’’
The second period provided no shortage of eye-opening saves by both men.
Madore squeezed his pads together to snub Peter Sivak’s power-play back-hander on a breakaway. He got his blocker on Brendan Connolly’s point-blank wrister on another breakaway. So he had the Aces’ shots low to the net covered. Yet when Aces defenseman Brad Richard sent a high, rocketing one-timer Madore’s way, he ranged far above the blue ice that marks his crease and shrugged away the galvanized rubber with his left shoulder.
At the other end of the Olympic-sized ice, Coleman flashed his left pad to stop Cyclones defenseman Josh McFadden barreling in from off the left wing. He covered for his team’s turnover by smothering Jonathan Hazen’s bid. He survived a case of friendly fire when a shot he stopped ricocheted off a teammate and back to his crease. He got a left shoulder in the way of Josh Shalla’s scorching wrister and again flashed that left pad to deny a redirected shot that changed angles at the last second.
“I was disappointed in the last game, losing 2-1,’’ Coleman said of Alaska’s setback in Game 2 on Saturday. “You don’t want to get shown up by another goalie. I just want to give my team a chance to win.’’
Finally, an opportunity was seized when Morrison, streaking down the middle of the ice, accepted a pass from Connolly, who was down on one knee behind the goal line. Madore stopped Morrison’s shot. But the rebound came directly back to the veteran pivot and, with Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise serving as a screen on the edge of Madore’s crease, Morrison powered a shot into the net with just 4:08 remaining in regulation for what he called “just one of those garbage goals that we needed.’’
“It came back to me, and I just gripped my stick tighter and said, 'Bleep, this one’s going in,’ ” Morrison said.
Moments before that goal, Cincinnati appeared on the way to opportunity when Jonathan Hazen possessed the puck and a modicum of speed at the red line, with no Ace in front of him, save Coleman.
Richard, back-checking, appeared to get enough of Hazen with either his stick or hand to slow the forward’s progress, and the puck was turned over. Cincinnati coach Ben Simon was stunned Richard was not penalized by either of the two referees, Pierre Lambert and J.M. McNulty.
“Absolutely,’’ said Simon. “The refereeing in this series is so inconsistent, and they’re not accountable. This is the Kelly Cup Finals. It’s disappointing, and it goes both ways — I’m sure Rob Murray is over there with some complaints.’’
Mosienko, who had endured a 31-game goal drought that dated well back into the regular season, emerged from his funk by blistering a slap shot from the left wing past Madore’s glove side for a 2-0 lead. His goal furnished the Aces a cushion and his excited celebration seemed like one long exhale.
“I’m here for the team, right?’’ he said. “So to have the insurance goal was huge. Obviously, to get the monkey off my back will help me and the team going forward.’’
All three games in the series have been surpassingly dramatic. The Aces (14-4) in Game 1 fell behind 3-1 before winning 5-3 on an empty-net goal. The Cyclones (13-8) in Game 2 surrendered the first goal but responded with two first-period goals just 21 seconds apart, which Madore made stand.
And Game 3 — well, the tension ramped up throughout as the Coleman and Madore stifled shooters time and again. And it wasn’t as if they were simply in the right spot to have the puck hit them. They ranged all over the crease to keep the game scoreless until Morrison, who joined the Aces mid-season from the defunct San Francisco Bulls precisely for a shot at a championship, authored his eighth goal of the playoffs.
“It was just a great hockey game, great goaltending, 0-0, playoff hockey in June, down to the wire,’’ Morrison said.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog and follow his live tweets throughout the Kelly Cup Finals @sportsadn.
Cincinnati 0 0 0 — 0
Aces 0 0 2 — 2
First Period — None. Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (elbowing), 4:08; Eves, Cincinnati (hooking), 6:52; Birkholz, Cincinnati (slashing), 11:46; Connolly, Aces (slashing), 14:01; Almeida, Cincinnati (goaltender interference), 19:17.
Second Period — None. Penalties — None.
Third Period — 1, Aces, Morrison 8 (Connolly, Sivak), 15:52; 2, Aces, Mosienko 1 (Connolly, Richard), 18:14. Penalties — Mele, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:49; McFadden, Cincinnati (roughing), 4:49; Curry, Aces (roughing), 11:22; Budish, Cincinnati (tripping), 12:07; Trupp, Aces (tripping), 18:35; Curry, Aces (roughing), 20:00.
Shots on goal — Cincinnati 7-10-13—30. Aces 7-17-10—34.
Power-play Opportunities — Cincinnati 0 of 5. Aces 0 of 4.
Goalies — Cincinnati, Madore, 13-8 (34 shots-32 saves). Aces, Coleman, 8-3 (30-30).
A— 5,773 (6,399). T — 2:27.
Referee — Pierre Lambert, J.M. McNulty. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY