FOXBORO, Mass. – In the last few weeks, Mansfield has allowed several third period leads to slip away and went home with a point rather than two. On Saturday night at the Foxboro Sports Center, in a game that the Hornets couldn’t afford to lose, they showed the capability to come back from a late deficit too.
Jack Watts twice put Foxboro in front, but both times the lead was wiped out by a goal from Jake Lund, including one with just 3:31 to play, as the teams skated away with a 2-2 tie. The point was enough to secure the Hornets a second-place tie in the Kelley-Rex division and a postseason berth, while the Warriors finished at .500 in league play for the first time.
“We got it done,” said Mansfield coach Mike Balzarini. “The way we’re playing, it was inevitable that we were going to get a tie. One thing that I’m extremely proud of is the way we battled back. We’ve been on the other end of that, so for us to come back twice was huge, especially in the third period.”
The game was end-to-end right from the opening face-off, with both teams stretching the opposition defense and testing the goaltenders. Mansfield had a 10-5 lead in shots after one, but both teams had their share of good scoring chances.
Foxboro had success with its diagonal outlet passes through the neutral zone, springing its forwards behind the Mansfield defense. Ronnie McLellan got it started just three minutes in with a pass to Kirk Leach, who got a look on the right wing that was saved by Sean McCafferty.
“We got a lot more pucks to the net against a team like this than we have in the past,” explained Foxboro coach Mark Cedorchuk. “We were happy with our offensive effort tonight. Our defense was moving the puck really quickly tonight and creating chances off that.”
Lund and Chris Jenkins had a nice give-and-go sequence on the other end but the final touch sent the puck wide of the net. Just seconds later, Lund got the puck in the slot, spun quickly and forced a good pad save from Foxboro goalie Espen Reager.
Leach had another go from the right circle that McCafferty blockered aside and then Ben Ierardo set up Jake Quirk for a one-timer that was mishit but nearly looped into the net and trickled just wide of the post with Reager wrong-footed.
The second period was even more action-packed, as the teams combined for 25 shots. Watts would put the Warriors in front with 11:35 left in the period. McLellan flipped a pass to Watts, who saw the puck bounce off his stick and flick into the top corner.
Mansfield kept coming back. Patrick Gormley had his shot from the point saved and then Reager dove to poke the rebound away from Cam Page. Watts nearly connected with Leach on the far post and then Jenkins had a backhander pushed aside.
McCafferty stood tall to deny Watts and Lund thought he tied the game only to have a goal waived off because the net was unmoored. McLellan was set up by Watts for a shot right in front that McCafferty had to be quick to stick out a pad and keep it 1-0.
Down by a goal entering the third period, Mansfield needed a response. The Hornets came out of the second intermission and had the first six shots of the period, peppering Reager in search of an equalizer. It finally came after four minutes when Lund got himself on the edge of the crease and knocked in a rebound that fell to him.
“I think we were playing a little nervous in the first period, guys holding their sticks too tight,” said Balzarini, “but we settled down and not once did we lose focus, even being down twice.”
Cedorchuk noted, “In front of our net, we just didn’t get underneath sticks and lift up sticks, particularly on that first goal.” He did praise his team’s overall defensive effort, adding, “We had a modified trap going, so we’d send one guy in and have our F1 and F2 stay with their wings and they had a hard time breaking it out and find outlets. We were just trying to slow them down.”
The goal seemed to spur the Warriors into action. Leach got free on a breakaway and had to be dragged down at the last second, with Watts getting stoned by McCafferty on a one-timer from the slot. Eoin Reager twice forced saves out of the Mansfield goalie and McLellan had a tip in front go just wide. McCafferty (25 saves) was called on again for a big stop when Leach got another breakaway with seven minutes to play.
“Sean’s been unbelievable,” said Balzarini. “If it wasn’t for him these past few games, I don’t know, I’d be nervous without him. He’s been great.”
With 4:21 to play, Eoin Reager fired a shot from the point that Watts managed to redirect past the goalie to regain the lead. This time, it only took 50 seconds for the Hornets to get back even. After Espen Reager (34 saves) stopped the first two chances, the puck fell to Lund in space and he fired a shot into the back of the net.
Balzarini joked, “He played great, but he’s been struggling in front of net, so I called him out at practice the other day. He actually got the hard hat and he dedicated it to me because I told him he was terrible in front of net. He did a great job.”
Mansfield (5-6-6, 3-1-4) has a week off before facing two games in two days, when they host Shrewsbury and Franklin at the New England Sports Village. Foxboro (7-4-5, 2-2-4) will look to build on its playoff positioning when it hosts Wayland on Wednesday.