TAUNTON, Mass. – When a power play opportunity arises in a close game, it is imperative to take advantage. So, when Taunton went got the extra skater early in the second period of Wednesday night’s divisional clash with Attleboro at Aleixo Arena, the Tigers were focused on making it count.
The puck cycled around the boards and then was sent diagonally across the heart of the Attleboro defense to senior defenseman Andrew Carter, who had floated down the boards to just below the left face-off dot. He wasted no time in smashing a one-timer past Bombardiers goalie Evan Andrews to open the scoring.
Carter’s goal turned out to be the only one of the game, as Sean Bunker made 21 saves in the Taunton goal and the Tigers defense held on for a 1-0 shutout.
“You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” Taunton coach Kris Metea said. “If you don’t at least build momentum, then it’s a wasted opportunity. We thought we’d get a few more but we needed to take advantage when it came.”
Scoring chances were at a premium in the first period, as both teams took a few minutes to get their footing. Brady Nichols had a couple shots from the point for the Tigers and Austin Blais had a go just after entering the zone for Attleboro but it took 10 minutes for the game’s first clear-cut chance.
Jack Patneaude, who assisted on Carter’s goal in the second period, had an opportunity on a quick breakout. He got space in the right circle and aimed for the bottom corner but Andrews (19 saves) stuck out his right pad to make the stop.
Attleboro had a two-on-one with a minute left in the period but Ryan Morry’s saucer pass to Cam Littig at the back post couldn’t be turned on goal. In the final second of the first, Sean Marshall got behind the Taunton goal and threw the puck into the slot for Kyle McCabe, who forced a pad stop from Bunker as the horn sounded.
“I thought our zone time was pretty good,” said Attleboro coach Mark Homer about the offense. “We had to move some things around because we’ve had a couple injuries. We didn’t do the small things, like protect the puck. You have one guy in the corner and the support wasn’t there. We just needed to create more offensive opportunities and we just didn’t do that.”
That flurry at the end of the first seemed to translate into momentum for the Bombardiers after the intermission. Attleboro came out flying and McCabe flung a puck on net from the point that was kicked over to Littig racing in from the left side. The senior forward connected well with his shot, but Bunker went post to post and smothered it to keep the game scoreless.
Metea said, “Sean’s always great for us when he needs to be. That one in the second period was a huge one, open net and he comes across, sprawls and makes the stop. That kept it scoreless and we scored shortly after. It goes to show that timely goaltending is important.”
Three minutes later, the Tigers got the game’s first power play. Just seconds after Andrews made a big stop when Cam Sneyd, who got the second assist on Carter’s goal, set up Michael Albert in front, Carter pounced to steal the energy from the Bombardiers.
“We can’t be getting stupid penalties,” said Homer, who added that a similar thing happened in the last game against North Attleboro. “I’ve been preaching to these guys that when you have a penalty then you have your top four guys out there and you’re wearing them down. We have a short bench to begin with.”
Jaden Weyant had a good look to double Taunton’s lead, but Andrews stayed big to block his shot from the edge of the crease. With two minutes remaining in the second, Attleboro cleared off a penalty and Morry looked up quickly to catch McCabe coming out of the box behind the Taunton defense. McCabe’s breakaway chance was saved by Bunker with the blocker.
Taunton nearly doubled its lead to start the third period, but Sneyd was denied on the power play by Andrews. With six minute left, Littig got space on his forehand side but Bunker was able to get a glove to the shot and two minutes later Bunker came through again to stop Jaydin Rossi after the freshman stole the puck right in front of goal.
“We were a little slow getting our shots off and they were good at getting sticks in the lanes and clogging the middle in front of the net,” Homer said. “We’ve got to find a way to get through it and we didn’t do it tonight.”
The game was nearly over with three minutes to go, but Nick Vandermeel’s shot caromed off the inside of the far post, behind Andrews, and out. That gave Attleboro a chance in the final minute and the Bombardiers had one good look as Morry fired a pass to Littig who in turn found McCabe in the slot but Bunker was there again with a blocker save.
“That’s hockey,” Metea said. “We had three great chances in the period and their goalie makes two good saves and then gets lucky with one off the post, but you can’t stop fighting when things don’t go your way.”
Metea noted that the Tigers have had a tough schedule to start the season and admitted that this win could be a spark for Taunton as it looks to make a playoff push.
“All of our losses are to playoff teams,” he explained, “so we needed that win just to get the confidence. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it at that point and hopefully they’ll take that momentum to go into Mansfield.”