MORRIS TOWNSHIP — Survive and advance.
Thomas Winter erased a one-goal deficit and David Andreychuk provided the go-ahead goal 1:03 later as third-seeded Chatham did both en route to a 3-1 victory over sixth-seeded Mahwah in the NJSIAA Public C quarterfinals at Mennen Arena.
Kevin Johnston gave Mahwah a 1-0 lead in the first period and nearly doubled it on a breakaway early in the second period, but Chatham buckled down and played a strong positional game to come back and defeat Mahwah for the second time this season, this time in a pivotal playoff bout that would send one team on to the semifinals and the other team packing.
“We just needed to calm down,” Winter, who added his second goal of the game into an empty net with 40 seconds remaining, said. “We came out a little nervous but we were able to regroup in between periods and came out hard in the second and got those two goals. We were trying to do too much with the puck. But we calmed down and played a solid team game.”
Mahwah took it to Chatham in the first period out-shooting the Cougars 12-9. If it weren’t for the play of junior goalie Zachary Pendergrast, the Thunderbirds would have gone into the first intermission with more than a one-goal lead.
Fortunate to only be down one after one, Chatham coach Brendon Herr addressed his troops in between periods.
“You could tell we were a little bit nervous, gripping our sticks a little but too tight but that comes with the territory in the playoffs,” Herr said. “We started off a little slow, but once we got back into the room after the first and calmed everybody down we got back to playing a simple game and that’s what we’re all about.”
The game remained close until Winter let go a shot from the point through a screen that beat Mahwah goalie Ryan Selman to tie the score at 1-1 with 3:23 left in the second period.
Still riding the wave of momentum, Chatham connected again just 63 seconds later when Andreychuk buried a rebound from in close to put the Cougars in front for the first time with 2:20 to go in the second frame.
“After that first goal the bench was pumped up,” Andreychuk, a sophomore, said. “Next shift, I was able to put in the rebound to take the lead.”
Chatham out-shot Mahwah 19-6 in the second period, capitalizing on two of them just over a minute apart to take a 2-1 lead after two periods of play.
“It was a great pass from (Evan) Schmidt,” Andreychuk described his team-leading 19th goal of the season, which proved to be the game-winner. “I gave it wide to (Colin) Pierce who took a shot off the pad. It came right to me for an open net tap-in rebound. We got together in the intermission and came out stronger.”
Chatham improves to 15-7 and will take on Wall Township in the NJSIAA Public C semifinals set for Feb. 28 at 4:30 pm at Mennen Arena. The Morris County team is seeking its third state title and first since 2013.
“A shot from the point and a big rebound goal from Andreychuk. It was big,” Winter, a senior, said. “It carried us the rest of the game.”
Mahwah (15-8-3) falls in the state quarterfinals for the third straight season but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“Out team worked hard. The bounces just didn’t go our way,” Selman, who kept Mahwah in it until the final minute of regulation when he was pulled for an extra attacker, said. “They capitalized on our mistakes and we just had no momentum after that. They just rolled with it.
“Our team is just going to get better and better,” Selman said. “Half our team are freshmen and they’re starting and getting top minutes on the top line. We’re only going to be better and stronger next year.”
Johnston had a chance on a breakaway to put the Thunderbirds up 2-0 early in the second period but Pendergrast came out and challenged him at the top of his crease in what could have been a turning point in the game for Mahwah.
“I saw top glove open and put it there,” Johnston said of his first goal of the game. “On the second goal, I should have realized I had more time there and put a better move on instead of just shooting again. I tried to slow it down to see if the goalie would back up a little more but he stood his ground and made a great save.”
After Pendergrast denied Johnston, Chatham struck back swift and sure.
“We’re a team that plays well with a lead,” Herr said. “The last couple of games we’ve faced adversity getting scored on first but we’ve learned to deal with that adversity pretty well. Once we got that first one we started to feel better about ourselves and things started to go our way.”
“We need to shut down Wall’s big three,” Winter said. “That first line… we can do it. We just have to rely on our defense and be opportune on our chances offensively.”
“We’ll enjoy this win tonight but we’ve got Wall on Wednesday,” Herr added. “Wall is a very good team. They have good goaltending. We’ll look at some film here, fix some mistakes and move on.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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