After #2 Natick tied the game early in the third period and stole momentum, the 10th-seeded Panthers battled back to strike twice in the last five minutes to earn a 3-1 upset over the Redhawks.
With a little help from a deflection, Franklin picked up a 1-0 lead in the first period and it lasted until the third. Natick lit the lamp just over a minute into the final period to take control of the game but the Panthers weathered the wave on momentum.
Instead of the Redhawks capitalizing, the Panthers went back ahead with just under five minutes to play and added an insurance goal with just over a minute to go to secure the win.
“They kept their composure, we knew [Natick] was going to come out with everything they have,” said first-year Franklin head coach Anthony Sarno. “They are a physical team, a strong team, and they weren’t going to give up…they weren’t seeded No. 2 for nothing. We fought through the adversity, we kept our composure, and we believed in each other and we played for each other. I couldn’t be more proud of them, I couldn’t be more happy for them…this group has earned it from day one.”
A clearance attempt took a deflection and ended up bouncing in the left circle. Natick’s Matthew Haskell was the first to it and timed his shot perfectly on the bouncing puck, smashing a shot into the back of the net, leaving Franklin goalie Ray Ivers (19 saves) little chance.
Natick didn’t have any chances right after the goal, instead having to race back to break up a potential breakaway bid from Dylan Marchand, and a minute later, Franklin’s Kevin O’Rielly had a hard wrist shot knocked away with a blocker save.
The Redhawks did test Ivers just before the midway point of the period when a shot from Nick Haswell tossed a shot from the blue line that hit Ivers’ mask, but the Franklin goalie was quick to cover up the loose puck in front.
As the clock ticked under five minutes, Franklin junior defenseman Will Sheehan pinched up to deny a clearance attempt, keeping the puck in the Panthers’ offensive zone. Sheehan eventually got the puck back and fired a shot that was knocked down.
With both Shea Hurley and Shane McCaffrey digging at the puck down low, Natick goalie Luc Gagnon was forced to go low. The puck popped back into the slot and Colin Hedvig blasted into the back of the net to make it 2-1 with 4:53 to go.
“Will was out for a while with an injury but his confidence, his patience, his poise, and most important his instincts, his instincts are spot on,” Sarno said of Sheehan making the right read to pinch. “For a kid that age to be that composed and that poised to step up and make that play at the right time…that’s how this team is playing right now.
“Right now everyone is pulling in the right direction right now. I have a great coaching staff too that helps so much. This is what we hoped for, this is why our schedule is as tough as it was. Hopefully we can continue it.”
Franklin kept the pressure up, denying Natick a chance at the tying goal. Instead, the Panthers added an insurance tally. Junior Sean Connelly used a slick move to split a pair of defensemen in the attacking zone, feeding the puck back in front and classmate Conor O’Neil buried it for a 3-1 lead with 1:25 to go.
Chances were hard to come by through the first two periods of play. The Redhawks went on the power play with 8:44 to go in the first but a pair of clearances from Sheehan, plus a strong forecheck from Hedvig helped the Panthers limit Natick to just one shot on goal during the man advantage.
After killing the penalty, the Panthers found the back of the net. Junior Joe LeBlanc went to blast a shot from the blue line but a Natick player was able to get his stick on it right away. The puck popped high into the air and eluded Gagnon, dropping into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with 5:34 left in the first.
“We got a little puck luck but to make those plays to make your own breaks,” Sarno said. “You have to create those opportunities, you have to get into the position. We’ll take it, you need the bounces too. The difference between a good team and a great team is good teams do just enough to get by, great teams do all the little things to make a difference at the end and that’s what we’ve got right now.”
Ivers came up with a nice glove save on a wrist shot from the circle from Natick’s Andrew Christileb. The Redhawks finished the period with 1:20 of a power play but a clearance from junior Paddy Dolan helped kill most of the man advantage.
Natick did have a shot off of Ivers back that caused a scrum in front but the Panther collapsed as a defense to prevent anything.
Franklin killed the remaining 39 seconds of the power play to start the second and then had to kill another just past the midway point. This time, O’Neil hustled to block a shot, Tom Tasker intercepted a pass and took the puck into the attacking zone and both JT Dwyer and Hedvig came up with clearances.
“We tried to forecheck them and cut off the middle of the ice. We knew they loved to clog the middle of the ice so we figured if we could step up at the blue line and force the dump in, our speed would prevail. They are working for it, and they got what they deserved, they earned this win.
The Panthers had their lone power play in the second with 3:28 to play but couldn’t muster up many chances. Hedvig had the best bid, skating past a defenseman but his backhand bid from in tight was denied.
Franklin boys hockey (11-7-4) will take on #14 Archbishop Williams in the D1 South Semifinals on Wednesday at Gallo at 5:30 Archies knocked off #3 Bridgewater-Raynham (2-1) and #11 Wellesley (2-1) to reach the semis.