Held without a shot on goal and scrambling to kill the final seconds of a penalty, the top-seeded Missouri Mavericks were in a tough spot just 6 minutes into their Central Hockey League playoff opener.
One mistake and championship hopes could take a difficult turn for the league’s top team.
Then Trevor Kell poked the puck loose in the Missouri zone, and defenseman Dave Pszenyczny found open ice and scored his first shorthanded goal of the year.
One opportunity, one goal and the Mavericks were off, taking game one of their best-of-seven opening round series 5-3 over the eighth-seeded Arizona Sundogs at Independence Events Center on Friday night.
“The playoffs are a game of emotions,” Pszenyczny said. “Get that first one and you’re riding high.”
Although Missouri took just four shots in the first period, they scored three times. By the end of the second period the Mavericks had a 5-1 lead.
And except for a two-goal flurry within 1:06 midway through the third period, the Sundogs were stifled by Mavericks goaltender Shane Owen and the Missouri defense.
That sloppiness was short-lived, but the playoff-intense physicality — the game included several skirmishes and 30 minutes in penalties — lasted until the final whistle.
“No team is going to quit just because they’re down,” said Mavs coach Scott Hillman of the Sundogs. “They came as hard as ever in the third.”
Owen finished with 29 saves. He weathered an almost constant barrage in the early moments of the game before that game-turning first goal.
“Every home game is huge, but especially the first one,” said Hillman, whose Mavs have won at least one playoff series in each of their four seasons. “You can’t have your back against the wall.”