HAVERFORD >> A playoff hockey upset requires three key components: the stars must play like stars, a goal must come from an unlikely source and the goaltender has to stand on his head. On Monday night at the Skatium, Strath Haven worked that formula to a tee to knock off top-seeded Haverford in the quarterfinals of the Central League playoffs, 5-2.
As far as stars go, Mike Irey scored a hat trick, while running mate Ryan Lowe contributed two assists and played shutdown defense at center. The unlikely scorer? How about Connor Demo, whose third period marker, just his third all season, proved to be the winner. As for goaltending, Lukas Bernaus was simply spectacular, making 22 saves in the last two periods alone.
“He’s only a sophomore. It’s crazy the poise that he’s shown throughout the year,” said Panthers head coach Matt Chandik. “He’s just been really good of late, and tonight was just an incredible coming out party for him.”
It could have been considered a coming out party for Strath Haven hockey as a whole. The Panthers have struggled in the playoffs in seasons past. But with Irey, also a sophomore, blossoming into one of the league’s most dangerous players and senior captain Lowe leading the charge, Haven believed it belonged against a league power.
“We just wanted to win,” Lowe said. “We didn’t want to be the next Strath Haven team to lose, we wanted to make a name for ourselves and show that we can play.”
Things didn’t start as planned. If playoff turnovers are a mortal sin, playoff turnovers that land on Shane Moran’s stick are something worse. The 2016 All-Delco winger capitalized on an errant pass some four minutes into the game and beat Bernaus high blocker. It was the Fords’ first shot.
Still, Haven stayed strong. The Panthers pulled even late, when Irey and Lowe broke in on a 2-on-1. Irey feathered a pass to his centerman and didn’t expect one back.
But he stayed in the play long enough to complete the tic-tac-toe sequence for a 1-1 score.
“I was waiting for a shot to get the rebound,” Irey said. “I almost blew by (the goalie) but stuck with it.”
That came with just 13 seconds on the clock, and it woke up the Fords in the second period. They pummeled Bernaus to the tune of 12 shots, while limiting Haven to three. And yet the Panthers had answers, whether it was a timely save or nifty stick work from defenseman Blayden Reid, who denied Dante Gattone on a rush to keep things locked at 1-1.
Haverford finally broke through in the last minute of the period. Moran found Henry DeVoe with a saucer pass through the slot. DeVoe’s slapper eluded a crowd in front of the net as well as Bernaus.
But Irey and Haven weren’t finished. He collected a Ryan Spanier feed at the Fords’ blue line, dragged the puck around the defenseman and put a backhand on goal that deflected in to make it 2-2 with three seconds showing on the clock.
“Coach Chandik pointed him out as someone to take on,” Irey said. “I saw the open ice and threw it to the net.”
The Panthers then took the lead. Demo, who was excellent all night, slipped in from the point and fired a loose puck home. The upset was on. For the next 10 minutes, Haven played desperate hockey. Every defensive clearance went off the glass. Defensemen slid all over the ice to block shots or disrupt a Haverford attack.
And when things broke down, Bernaus was there again and again. His finest stop came when Gattone went coast-to-coast on a rush. With Bernaus to beat, the Fords’ top-scoring defenseman pulled the puck to his backhand only to find an outstretched pad on the goal line.
“He’s stopped some pretty big-time players on breakaways,” Chandik said. “But as far as biggest moment and big save, that’s probably his best save of the year.”
It was one of 11 in a terrific third period display from Bernaus. He was rewarded with an insurance goal from Reid, whose wrist shot hit a stick on its way past Tyler Cassidy. The final touch was added, fittingly, by Irey, scoring an empty netter for the hat trick with the assist coming from Lowe.
“I thought it was going in on its own,” joked Lowe. “But it felt good to watch him score and get the game over with.”
On the other side, Haverford (11-5-3) struggled to break through a stout Panthers’ defense all game. The few chances the Fords did get, which included two posts, went begging. Moran was good, but he continually faced two or three opponents at a time.
“Shane worked extremely hard tonight,” said Haverford coach John Povey. “You know they’re going to key on him. He had his chances. Their goaltender played outstanding.”
Bernaus got help from Lowe and Irey on the defensive end in that department, where the duo shared the task of shadowing Moran. That they outscored him 3-1 was something of a bonus.
“Your top players have to be your top players in those type of games,” Povey said. “(Irey and Lowe) did a great job tonight. Both outstanding players.”
The Panthers (9-7-3) will play Penncrest, which beat Lower Merion 4-3 Monday, Wednesday night in the semifinals. They have all intentions of making this a run.
“We just wanted to prove people wrong coming in as the fourth seed,” Irey said. “We’re not just going to come in and lose.”
In the other Central quarterfinals:
Ridley 4, Radnor 2 >> The Green Raiders, the No. 1 seed in the South, needed goals from Eric Miller and Jake Cross in the third period to avoid the upset. Miller converted a pass from Brett Dunning with 7:17 in the go in the final period to break a 2-2 tie. Cross scored an empty net goal off a feed from Michael Grampapa with nine seconds left to seal the victory.
The Green Raiders advance to take on Springfield, which defeated Conestoga, Wednesday night (6:45) at IceWorks.
Cross finished with two goals. Dunning had one goal and one assist, Clayton Proctor scored both goals for Radnor.
Springfield 8, Conestoga 2 >> Joseph Cavaliere scored twice as the Cougars broke the game open with five goals in the second period.
Cavaliere finished with three goals. Ken Brown also scored three times and handed out one assist. Geno Romolini chipped in with one goal and two assists. Aiden Smith and Steven Griffin pitched in with three assists apiece.
Penncrest 4, Lower Merion 3 >> Jake Olds and Matthew Dougherty scored less than five minutes apart in the third period to erase a 3-2 deficit and send the Lions into the semis against Strath Haven Wednesday night at IceWorks (8:30).
Dougherty wound up with two goals and two assists, while Austin Mazzulo had one goal and two assists for Penncrest.
In the South semifinals:
DMA 9, Interboro 2 >> Delaware Military Academy blew the game open with six goals in the first period. Tyler Bolin led the way with four goals and two assists. Stephen Schwartz scored all three goals for the Bucs.
In the PCL Blue quarterfinals:
Archbishop Carroll 10, Bishop Shanahan 0 >> Goalie Jacob George turned aside 27 shots and reaped the benefit of a five-goal outburst by the Patriots.
Matthew Strofe paced the offensive attack with three goals. Ian Myers added two goals and one assist, while William Stenger, Harrison Lownes, Shane Brady, Ian McHugh and Dell Jensen had one goal and one assist apiece.
Carroll moves on to take on second-seeded Archbishop Ryan Wednesday night (7:15) at the Flyers Skate Zone Northeast.
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