Xpress Still Have Chance To Come Back In Best-Of-Three Series

Metro’s Connor Inger gets ready to put a move on Southern Tier goaltender Ryan Pascarella during a third-period penalty shot in Thursday’s NA3HL East Division semifinal Game 1 at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

Six times this season, the Southern Tier Xpress won two games during the same weekend.

They’ll have to make it seven if they want their season to continue past Sunday.

Leading 3-2 entering the third period Thursday night, the Xpress gave up three goals to the league-leading Metro Jets to fall 5-3 in Game 1 of their best-of-three NA3HL East Division semifinal.

“It was a heartbreaker for sure. For everyone except a couple guys in our locker room, it’s the first time we’ve played in a playoff game,” third-year Xpress player Joey Gerace said. “It’s kind of tough some times to come through this. We are constantly learning and have to fight through.”

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Now with their collective backs against the wall, the Xpress will have to sweep the Jets on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Fraser, Michigan to keep their season alive.

“Saturday morning we’re heading out there to Fraser and we have to bring it to them. We’re going to go out there and give it our all. Pedal to the metal,” Southern Tier defenseman Jacob Zwieg said. “We all had our heads held high and we were ready. We were full of steam and wanted to take these guys more than anything tonight.”

The previous six times Southern Tier won multiple games during a single weekend, it was never against a team the same caliber of Metro.

“We can’t get down, especially in the playoffs. It’s the biggest time of the year. Everybody’s got to come ready to play,” forward Tristan Mock said. ” … You have to play a 60-minute game. You can’t give 40, you can’t give 20. You’ve got to give it all.”

The Xpress’ most impressive weekend came Feb. 16 and Feb. 18 when they snapped a Jets’ 17-game winning streak Friday night before beating second-place Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.

“We try to keep our heads up. We still have two more games against them because it’s a series. It hurt tonight to lose, especially being up with a lead,” Zwieg said. “Coming into the third period I thought we were kind of flat, but the first two periods were good. We came out flying and put them on their heels. We were right in there in their face and we were putting pucks into the net. It kind of slumped off the hill there at the end.”

Southern Tier was the better team for the opening 10 minutes Thursday night, but despite holding a one-goal lead for close to 31 minutes and even a two-goal lead for over eight minutes, the Xpress seemed to struggle to maintain pressure and puck possession in the Metro zone for much of the night.

“Our first goal of the game was a fluke, it was a bounce. That’s something we take as a blessing, but those things happen,” Gerace said. “We played them hard all the way through. They never stopped battling and when we did for just a minute, that’s when they came back into the game.”

While the Jets have never really been forced to play with desperation throughout the season as their 40-6-1 record would indicate, they seemed to adjust fine to the demands of playoff-intensity hockey.

“One thing people overlook a lot is they see our record, but they don’t see how we won games. We’ve won a lot of tight games, hard games, third-period games,” Metro head coach Justin Quenneville said. “That’s a tribute to our coaching staff and players committing to everything all year.”

Southern Tier, on the other hand, has been playing with desperation for much of the final month of the season, having to go 9-3-0 in its final 12 games, just to clinch a spot in the postseason on the final day of the league calendar.

“We obviously would’ve liked to take this one at home. It’s always easier to win in your own barn,” Gerace said. “Going out to Detroit, we know exactly what we have to do. If we pay the price and execute the plays, I think we can come out successful.”

With the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the top seed, opening the playoffs on the road, the Xpress now become the team in need of a win just to get to a Game 3 on Sunday in suburban Detroit.

“The boys are dialed in and focused. We want it so bad,” Mock said. “We’ve put in all the work and fought our way into the playoffs. We deserve this and we want this. It’s ours.”

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