For one night at least, the Junior A Crushers found a way to win without their top gun.
Dylan Riley and Evan MacLennan scored third-period goals to stave off a Valley Wildcats comeback, and the Crushers, playing without captain and leading scorer Michael Dill, beat the Wildcats 5-3 on Thursday.
“Diller's definitely a huge player for us and he's relied on for a lot of things, but we're not sitting back waiting for him to (return),” MacLennan would say Friday afternoon, as the Crushers bused the TCH to Yarmouth for a date with the Mariners.
“We still know what we have to do. It's a big opportunity for some guys here to step up for the time that he is away.”
Step up they did on Thursday.
Jake Stewart's early second-period goal had the Crushers up 1-0 at the Pictou County Wellness Centre, and they built on that lead: Jacob Hickey pocketed his 19th of the season to make it 2-0 before defenceman Giancarlo Fiori patiently let a bouncing puck settle before hammering home a slapper as the Crushers took a three-goal lead into the third period.
The last-place Wildcats, desperately needing a win to get closer in the South Division playoff chase, received goals from Cameron Allaby and Brett Tidman to trim the deficit to 3-2 midway through the final period, but if there was a collective feeling of anxiety amongst the Crushers faithful at the PCWC, Riley soon dispelled it, going upstairs with a pinpoint rocketing wrister, less than three minutes before MacLennan whacked in a loose puck at the side of the Valley net.
“That goal (Riley) scored was big because they were pushing back, and that goal felt like it gave us the momentum back for the rest of the game,” said MacLennan. “The fifth was an insurance goal, Frady (Michael Fradette) got the puck towards the net and I was able to finish it off.”
A late goal from Tarek Paranica put Valley closer, but the Crushers held on in front of goaltender Luke Melanson, who was credited with 21 saves.
“I thought we played solid in all three zones,” coach Doug Doull said. “We were hungrier around the cage and simplified shot selection on the power play.”
With the win, Pictou County moved a bit closer to the Truro Bearcats, who salvaged a single point in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the South Shore Lumberjacks.
• The Crushers are four points back of the Bearcats for that final playoff spot.
• Jacob Hickey and Jaden Mason each had two assists in the game.
• Michael Dill, out with a lower-body injury, did not dress against the Mariners on Friday.