The final 30 seconds of Monday’s crucial league clash between the Mars and Meadville hockey teams played out like the climax of an action movie, the kind where the hero is breathlessly snipping wires on a bomb that’s about to go off, the clock beeping with each second that elapses, the music building into an immense crescendo.
In this case, the bomb was Meadville’s hopes for a playoff spot. A loss would likely doom the ’Dogs. A win would keep them alive.
As the climax begins, the game is tied 1-1.
n 31.2 seconds left — The Meadville side erupts after Michael Mahoney bats a rebound past Mars goalie Danny Mitchell, giving the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
n 17.8 seconds left — Mars appears to steal away the win when Matthew Bobko converts a turnover in the neutral zone into a game-tying goal. A tie would really muddy the picture for Meadville’s playoff ambitions.
n 8.6 seconds left — Meadville wins the face-off at center ice. Cohl Weber pokes the puck behind a defender along the boards. Mahoney corals it, skates wide around Mitchell. And once the Planets’ keeper commits, Mahoney lets loose.
A few seconds later, the time bomb stops ticking. Mahoney’s third tally of the night had given Meadville a vital 3-2 victory over Mars in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Class AA meeting last night at the George S. DeArment Ice Arena.
“That was a crazy game,” Mahoney said afterward. “Really fun. Those are the games that you live for.”
With that win, Meadville improved 7-8-0-2 in Class AA’s Northwest Division Standings. That means the Bulldogs have 16 points in the league.
They currently trail Quaker Valley (7-7-0-3) by one point in the Northwest standings.
Meadville has one league game left against Moon on Feb. 17. Quaker Valley has one league game left against Mars on Feb. 27.
If Meadville can get the two points for a win against Moon, and if Mars can defeat Quaker Valley, the Bulldogs would finish ahead of QV by a point.
Where Mars fits into the picture is anybody’s guess. The Planets (6-8-0-0) are in third with 12 points, but still have four league games remaining. So they could leapfrog both Quaker Valley and Meadville for first place in the Northwest Division.
Of course, Mars could go on a losing streak and stay in third.
So, there are a couple paths to the postseason still open for Meadville. It all hinges on the Bulldogs taking care of business on Feb. 17, much like they took care of business last night.
“We needed that win,” said Meadville goalie Jordan McCurdy. “If we lost that game we weren’t going to the playoffs. And I think the boys all knew that in their hearts. So when it was time to go out there and battle tonight we all went out there together and fought as a team and ended up coming out on top.
“So, if feels pretty good.”
Speaking of McCurdy, the guy put on a show between the pipes last night — 51 saves. He stopped 21 of 21 shots in the first period, 17 of 17 in the second, and 15 of 17 in the third, the last coming in those remaining 8.6 seconds as Mars made one final lunge for the Bulldogs’ goal.
“He’s been playing well lately,” said Meadville head coach Jamie Plunkett. “What I was impressed with is he was controlling his rebounds. He absorbed the shot and wasn’t giving (Mars) the opportunity to get a second or third shot. That was impressive to me.”
McCurdy’s play was vital in the first period, as Mars outshot the Bulldogs 21-3.
“It felt like my head was constantly turned to the right in that first period,” said Plunkett.
Mars had beaten Meadville 5-0 when the two teams played Jan. 27. And with the pressure the Planets were putting on the Bulldogs early, it could have been another long night for the locals. But McCurdy kept the game even.
Then halfway through the second period, Meadville got its first glimmer of hope, as Mahoney won a fight for the puck along the boards, threaded through the Mars defense with the puck on his stick, and then knocked it backhand over Mitchell’s glove to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
“Michael’s got very good hands,” said Bulldogs coach Kyle Waite. “He may be lacking a little speed, but his hands and his vision and his understanding of the game is excellent.”
The game stayed 1-0 through the rest of the second and into the third. Yet, about five minutes into the final frame, Mars skater Sean Newman found the twine with a shot from the slot over McCurdy’s glove.
A little later, Meadville had a terrific opportunity to get the lead back, getting a 5-on-3 against Mars that would last for 1:09. Mars kept the Bulldogs out.
However, with 1:47 left, another Mars skater went to the box. Meadville made sure that this man advantage would not go to waste.
Shortly before the penalty was up, the Bulldogs surrounded the Planets’ net. Jonathan English slapped a shot from the point. Mitchell turned the puck away, but set it right in Mahoney’s path.
Fourteen seconds later, Mars answered.
Nine seconds after that, Meadville had the final say, as Mahoney went coast-to-coast on Mitchell, tucking the puck in around his skate.
“That’s something that Michael does to me at practice,” said McCurdy. “It’s not something I like to admit, but he does.”