OSWEGO, N.Y. — Sports are all about taking an opportunity and making the most of it. That is probably the motto for Plattsburgh goaltender Curtis Cribbie, who was prepared to watch the playoffs from the bench as Craig Neilson’s backup. Cribbie was given an opportunity when Neilson got hurt in practice just days before the start of the second season.
Cribbie is making the most of it as he led his Cardinals to their fifth straight SUNYAC playoff victory, a 5-3 win over Oswego in the first game of the three-game championship series in front of a hostile and packed Romney Field House.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “He’s [Cribbie] been steady. This is the best team he’s played against, so obviously this is his best game.”
Oswego tested Cribbie in the first minute with two quality shots on a partial break, both of which Cribbie turned aside. A couple of minutes later, Cribbie made a solid kick save.
Plattsburgh thanked its goalie for preventing Oswego from getting off to an emotional start in front of the home crowd by scoring first at 6:13. Soon after Plattsburgh failed to convert on a power play, the Cardinals still maintained control in the Great Lakers zone. Conor McDonough got open in front of the net, Joe Carpinone fed him perfectly, and McDonough one-timed it past Tyson Gajda.
Oswego got it back quickly on the power play, which was very effective (3-for-6 on the night) for the Lakers.
“We moved the puck well,” Oswego coach George Roll said of his power play.
It was that movement that led to the first goal. The Great Lakers entered the zone on a rush and completed some quick passes which allowed John Hirliman open in the slot area. He wristed the shot by Cribbie.
Hirliman later injured his knee; he is questionable for Saturday’s game, which is doubly damaging to teh Lakers considering Oswego has already lost the services of Jean-Simon Richard.
Though Roll was happy with the way his team moved the puck around five on four, he wasn’t so happy even up. “That’s what I thought we needed to do five on five. I thought we got a bit selfish then,” he said.
When Oswego did apply pressure, Cribbie was equal to the task, cutting down the angles and moving from side to side with excellent quickness.
Plattsburgh exploded for three goals in the second period to nearly put the game away. McDonough scored his second of the night 40 seconds into the period when he received a pass while skating right down the middle and fired it in. The original centering pass deflected off the skate of Oswego’s Mark Strzoda, but Jason Kilcan picked up the puck again, and re-fed it to the streaking McDonough.
But Oswego again tied it up on the power play, this time by Mike Lukajic.
The Cardinals immediately responded with two goals in a 1:16 span. The first was scored after Plattsburgh won a faceoff and controlled the puck behind the net, where Chad Kemp fed David Friel for the shot.
Plattsburgh made it 4-2 thanks to the help of the Oswego defenders. After the initial rush was turned aside by Gajda, an Oswego defender plowed into his own goalie, forcing both of them into the net. Before Gajda could recover, Plattsburgh fed the puck from behind the net in front where Brett Gilmour stuffed it in.
With Oswego looking to get back into the game at the start of the third, Cribbie continued to come up with big saves, including one where he made the initial stop to his right, then had to quickly move to his left to stop the shot off the rebound.
Oswego did, however, get back into the game at 5:25 on the power play. The Great Lakers won the faceoff after the penalty, and got it back to Strzoda, who fired a blueline slapshot. He threaded the needle between Cribbie’s skate and the post, nicking the pipe on the way in.
“We have to work on our power play,” Emery said in the understatement of the evening.
Oswego desperately tried to get the tying goal, but with less than seven minutes left, the Cardinals instead got an insurance goal. Dave Young prevented Oswego from clearing the zone, and fed an open Jordan Smith down low. With just Gajda to beat, Smith didn’t waste his opportunity.
In the waning minutes Cribbie made multiple saves in a flurry of close shots to preserve the 5-3 win. In all, Cribbie made 37 saves.
“I didn’t think they outchanced us,” Roll said. “They capitalized on their chances.” That, and having Cribbie make the most of his opportunity.
Plattsburgh is now on the verge of its seventh consecutive title, pending game two Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET.
Emery, however, kept perspective. “We’ve won one game,” he said. “We haven’t won anything yet. They can enjoy this for an hour, then we’ll get ready for the next game.”
Meanwhile, Roll understands his team’s back is against the wall. “We have to make some adjustments,” he said. “We have to play team defense. I didn’t think our forwards helped out our defense.”