CRANSTON --- Cranston East had the numbers, the size, and fewer mistakes than Tolman on Friday night, and that helped the ’Bolts seize the first game of their best-of-three Division III quarterfinal-round series with the Tigers.
Cranston East scored twice in a 13-second span in the second period to claim a 3-0 command and held off a late Tolman comeback to secure a 5-2 triumph at the Cranston Vets Arena.
The fifth-seeded Tigers (8-8-1) will try to even the series tonight at 8:30 p.m. in the friendly confines of Lynch Arena. If they are successful, they will force a rubber game on Monday night back in Cranston.
“We have to do everything a little bit better tomorrow if we want our season to continue,” said Tolman coach Steve Reynolds. “This (game) is over, and tomorrow, we know what we have to do. We have to put the puck in the net, we have to limit our mistakes, and we have to stay of the penalty box.
“It’s do or die. If they want to continue to play, they have to take care of our house tomorrow night.”
The fourth-seeded Thunderbolts, who improved to 12-4-1, outshot the Tigers by a 42-26 margin, and that wasn’t the only advantage they had over them.
With playoff games expanding from 12-minute periods to 15, the ’Bolts were ready for the occasion, dressing a full team and skating three lines regularly.
Tolman, meanwhile, was only able to dress 15 players (including two goalies) and skate two lines, but the Tigers often threw an extra player into the mix to give one of their regular forwards a breather.
“We’re not as deep as some other teams in our division, but I think the guys responded well,” said Reynolds. “Overall, I was pleased with their effort and especially stepping up to the longer periods.”
The Thunderbolts, who were one of the league’s most penalized teams, also played a solid game physically and used their bigger size to their advantage.
“They’re a big, physical team,” offered Reynolds. “I don’t want to say they pushed us around, but they’re big, they can control the puck, and they work their body well.”
The Tigers also struggled to stay out of the penalty box in the opening period, getting three minors in the first 10 minutes of play. They burned off the first two, but were victimized on the third, for with 5:49 to go in the period, Dan Muncy notched the first of his two goals on the night.
The ’Bolts then copped their 3-0 lead on an unassisted goal by Matt Botelho 4:25 into the second period and Muncy’s second goal off a pass from Ryan Hyatt just 13 seconds later.
Down, but not out, the Tigers regrouped after a time-out by Reynolds and got on the board at 6:07 on the first of two goals by junior Kody Casavant, who flipped home a rebound by Dylan Miniati.
Casavant, who produced a league-leading 30 goals during the regular season, added his other goal (an unassisted tally) just 20 seconds into the final period and the ’Bolts just seconds away from killing off a power play.
The Tigers continued to buzz the Thunderbolts’ net and come up with a tying goal, but Robert Kuczek gave the hosts some breathing room by lighting the lamp with 5:32 to play on a wristshot over goalie Stephane Meunier’s glove.
Kyle St. Jean’s shorthanded, empty-net score with 45.7 second to play sealed the verdict.
Tolman 0 - 1 - 1 -- 2
Cranston East 1 - 2 - 2 -- 5
First period: CE -- Dan Muncy (Robert Kuczek), power play, 9:11. Penalties: T, 3-6.
Second period: CE -- Matt Botelho (unassisted), 4:25; CE -- Dan Muncy (Ryan Hyatt), 4:38. T -- Kody Casavant (Dylan Miniati, Patrick Gray), 6:07. Penalties: T, 1-2; CE, 3-6.
Third period: T -- Kody Casavant (unassisted), :20; CE -- Robert Kuczek (Tyler Donahay), 9:28; CE -- Kyle St. Jean (Kyle Hennessey), shorthanded, empty net, 14:15. Penalties: CE, 2-4.
Shots on goal: Tolman 26, Cranston East 42. Goalie saves: T -- Stephane Meunier (37 saves); CE -- Dom Dibiase (24 saves).