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Playoffs open with Game 1 in Pensacola

Playoff Game 1: Mississippi RiverKings (0-0) vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers (0-0)

7:05 p.m., Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacola, Florida

The Mississippi RiverKings begin their playoff run against the Pensacola Ice Flyers, who have won back-to-back President's Cups. The best-of-three series opens in Pensacola for Game 1 tonight. The series shifts to the Landers Center for Game 2 Friday night and then, if necessary, Game 3 will be back in Pensacola.

The Ice Flyers won six of their last 10 games to finish the regular season 32-18-6, which gave them 70 points. They finished tied with Columbus in points, but the Cottonmouths owned the tiebreaker, so the Ice Flyers finished third in the SPHL. Last year they were the number one seed and beat the Mississippi Surge in the first round 2-0 and then beat the Knoxville Ice Bears and Columbus Cottonmouths the next two rounds to win the President's Cup.

The RiverKings lost their season finale, 4-3, to the Peoria Rivermen Saturday night at the Landers Center. Mississippi finished the regular season with a 33-21-2 record. The RiverKings wound up with 68 points, two points behind both Pensacola and Columbus. If the RiverKings won Saturday they would have been the number two seed, but instead dropped to fourth with the loss. They finished fourth last season and lost their first round series against Huntsville 2-1.

Broadcast Coverage

Hibu RiverKings Pregame at 7:00 p.m.

Radio: Sports 56/87.7 FM

Streaming: Pay-to-watch video on SPHL Live 

Last time out

The RiverKings rallied from three one-goal deficits, but couldn't overcome a fourth as they fell to the Peoria Rivermen in the regular season finale.

Peoria took a 1-0 lead just 1:07 into the first as Matt Summers snapped a power-play goal from the left circle. Just over four minutes later the RiverKings tied the game at one when Linden Bahm buried a rebound from the bottom of the left circle after an extended shift in the Peoria defensive zone. The Rivermen took a 2-1 lead just 59 seconds into the second period when Steve Morra fired in a shot from the slot. At 7:36 Devin Mantha tied the game at two when he stickhandled near the left circle before blasting a shot past Kyle Rank. The Rivermen again went up by one when Josh Harris scored on a rebound with 47 seconds to go in the period.

The RiverKings pulled even early in the third period as captain Leo Thomas scored on a breakaway against Rank, beating him five hole. The game remained deadlocked at three until the Rivermen went ahead at 13:52 when Harris took advantage of a miscue behind the RiverKings net. The Rivermen dumped the puck in and most went to make a change. Peter Di Salvo went to play it behind the net, but the puck bounced past him and Harris picked it up and put it into an empty net for a 4-3 lead, which turned into the final score.  

Head-to-head

The RiverKings and Ice Flyers met 10 times in the regular season, including the season opener Oct. 24 at the Landers Center. Pensacola won five of the first six, but the RiverKings won the last four meaning both teams ended the series with five wins each. Only one game went past regulation and that was a 2-1 win for the RiverKings in overtime Dec. 12 in Mississippi. The Ice Flyers won three of four in Pensacola and the RiverKings went 4-2 at home. Both teams ended with 25 goals each in the series.

Matt Whitehead was the leading scorer for the RiverKings in the season series with 10 points (3g, 7a). He scored five seconds into the game Feb. 6 at Pensacola, a new SPHL record for fastest goal to start a game, as the RiverKings won their only game in Pensacola, 3-1. Leo Thomas (4g, 4a) and Andrew Randazzo (1g, 7a) were next with eight points each. For the Ice Flyers Corey Banfield had 10 points (5g, 5a) to lead scorers against the RiverKings. 

In net Peter Di Salvo has appeared in six games and is 4-2-0 with a 2.22 goals-against and a .934 save percentage. He has allowed 13 goals and one of his two shutouts this season came against his former team. Adam Courchaine has played in five games and is 1-3-0 with a 2.91 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. For the Ice Flyers Max Strang is 4-3-1 in eight games against the RiverKings. He has a 2.59 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

Scouting the Ice Flyers

The Ice Flyers finished the regular season by going 6-4-0 in their last 10 games, but 4-1-0 in their final five. That moved their record to 32-18-6 and with 70 points they finished in third place in the SPHL, giving them home ice advantage against the RiverKings in the first round of the playoffs..

Adam Pawlick finished the season tops in the SPHL with 66 points (32g, 34a), giving him the inaugural Kevin Swider Leading scorer award in the SPHL. He finished second in the SPHL in goals, two behind Columbus' Matt Gingers, while playing in all 56 games. Corey Banfield finished second on the team and in the league with 61 points (20g, 41a) in 47 games. He only played three games out of 11 for the Ice Flyers in March, last playing March 20. Brett Lutes was third with 45 points (17g, 28a).

In net Max Strang played the majority of the games for the Ice Flyers. In 47 games Strang tied an SPHL record with 28 wins, going 28-14-5 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He was tops in the league in games played among goalies, wins, goals-against average and saves. The current backup for Pensacola is 6-foot-9 John McLean, who has played in three games since signing out of Gustavus Adolphus College. He is 2-0-0 with a 3.54 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage.

Special teams

The Ice Flyers ended up with the third-best power play in the SPHL, finishing the year at 18.9% (43-for-228). Only Peoria scored more power-play goals this season than the Ice Flyers. At home Pensacola was 19-for-112 (17.0%) and they went 6-for-36 (16.7%) in the season series against the RiverKings.

The RiverKings power play is just 2-for-33 over the last eight games, moving them to seventh in the SPHL at 14.3% (31-for-217). On the road they were also seventh, going 11-for-92 (12.0%). They finished 8-for-38 (21.1%) on the power play against the Ice Flyers. 

Pensacola's penalty kill was fourth in the SPHL at 82.7% (186-for-225), but their percentage of success kills jumps to 86.1% (93-for-108) at the Pensacola Bay Center. Only Fayetteville (44) allowed more power-play goals the Pensacola's 39 against during the regular season. 

The RiverKings penalty kill finished second in the SPHL in the regular season, after going 25-for-28 (89.3%) over their last 10 games. They have successfully killed 84.6% (154-for-182) of opponent's power plays this season. They are perfect on the kill in 15 of the last 21 game, going 51-for-57 (89.5%).

Posted by Lukas Favale at 3:00 PM

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Next Game

RiverKings vs. Havoc
Tue, Dec. 12 - 10:30 AM

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Planters Bank Ice @ Landers Center

Schedule

Standings

TEAM GP W L OT PTS
PEO Peoria 16 11 4 1 23
PEN Pensacola 14 10 4 0 20
MRK RiverKings 15 10 5 0 20
EVV Evansville 16 9 5 2 20
HUN Huntsville 14 8 4 2 18
MAC Macon 16 7 5 4 18
KNX Knoxville 14 7 6 1 15
FAY Fayetteville 18 5 9 4 14
RKE Roanoke 15 5 8 2 12
BIR Birmingham 12 3 8 1 7
 
Full Standings

Updated: December 9, 2017