Local pro hockey: Wolves get off to promising start, but lose playoff opener to Binghamton

Apr. 20—WATERTOWN — The Watertown Wolves opened their playoff quest on Friday night with a promising start.

Yet the Wolves, who scored the game's first two goals, couldn't build any further momentum.

The Binghamton Black Bears scored four unanswered goals to close the game, including generating the go-ahead goal on a power-play tally from Dakota Bohn early in the third period, to post a 4-2 victory over Watertown in the first game of a Federal Prospects Hockey League playoff series before a capacity crowd of 1,500 at Watertown Municipal Arena.

The top-seeded Black Bears can close out the Empire Division semifinal series with a win on Saturday as the series shifts back to Binghamton.

"It's only one, but in a best-of-three series, it makes it tough," Lord said. "We've just got to put our heads down and get back to work (Saturday)."

The fourth-seeded Wolves, who secured a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season last Saturday, opened the first game with an encouraging start as Trevor Lord and Michael Mercurio each scored a goal in the first period.

"It was a good start," Lord, an assistant captain, said. "We just have to find a way to take things further and keep up the pressure."

"It definitely was a good start, exactly the start we were looking for," Mercurio said. "I think we kind of fell into penalty trouble a little bit, in playoff games you can't do that. You've just got to stay out of the box and finish your opportunities."

But then Watertown's fortunes on the night went downhill as the Binghamton struck for a pair of goals within 39 seconds in the second period to draw even.

Then with the Black Bears on the power entering the third period after Wolves captain Tate Leeson was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty.

"Definitely, not knowing a little bit what they were going to come back with made it tough," Mercurio said. "Obviously I don't really agree with it, I thought it was a little bit ridiculous. But at the end of the day, you can't question it, you just have to bear down and get through it, kill it off."

Binghamton then capitalized on the opportunity as Bohn scored the eventual game winner 40 seconds into the third period.

Wolves goalie Spencer Kozlowski made the initial save, but play continued and Bohn took advantage of an extended period of time without a whistle by sending the puck into the open side of the net.

"It was definitely a little tough," Mercurio said. "I'm not really sure what the deal was on that, I thought it might have been covered, I guess it wasn't. Regardless, we've got to find a way to fight back and find a way to win."

Watertown would never recover from this sequence the rest of the night as former Wolves player Gavin Yates added an unassisted goal with 9 minutes and 26 seconds remaining in regulation.

Now much like last Saturday night, Watertown again faces a must-win situation on Saturday to keep it season alive.

"We just know that we have to play better as a team," Lord said.

The Wolves jumped on the Black Bears for two unanswered goals in the first period to set the early tone.

Lord provided the Wolves with a 1-0 lead 4:48 into the game on a drive from the right faceoff circle, with Ivan Sergeev assisting on the tally.

Watertown led 2-0 as goalie Connor McAnanama made the initial save, but the puck deflected off a Binghamton player and in with 6:27 left in the period, with Mercurio credited with the goal.

Binghamton then struck for two goals on successive shots to even the game up at 2-2.

First, Kyle Stephan scored from the left faceoff circle 2:14 into the second period, with Yates assisting.

Then Clan Fitzgerald followed with a tally while wide open in front of the Watertown net, converting on a Blake Tosto pass.

"I think at times we did, so I think if we brought a full 60 minutes we would have won that game," Mercurio said of Watertown's effort on Friday night. "But I think we let off the gas a little bit and that was the difference."

Later in the period, the Black Bears killed off two successive Wolves' power plays, including a 5-on-3 advantage spanning 35 seconds later.

Watertown appeared to have a third power play in the second period when Vladislav Pavlov was boarded, but Tate Leeson made a hit after the whistle to nullify the potential man advantage.

Later, Leeson was again sent off on a penalty in the final minute of the middle period to set the stage for both the deciding and go-ahead goal by Binghamton.

"We definitely need to hit more," Lord said. "And just like move our feet, it was almost like we were a little lazy in the second and third periods, we've just got to be comfortable, but we just lost it in that regard."

"We had plenty of opportunities, you've just got to find a way to make them count," Mercurio said.

Early on in the first period, Kozlowski denied Mathieu Boislard's bid on breakaway to turn back Binghamton.

Kozlowski, a rookie, finished with 43 saves, including stopping all 13 shots he faced in the first period in making his first playoff start at this level.

Goalie Connor McAnanama made 26 saves, including turning aside all 16 shots he faced after the first period, to record the win for Binghamton.

While this primarily young Wolves team knows it squandered a prime opportunity to strike first in the series, they'll have a chance to even the series on Saturday night.

"But we've just got to keep at it, any minute the puck luck can go the other way, so we need to get more chances," Lord said. "We just need to throw the puck on net, especially in the playoffs, you never know which one is going to give you a good bounce."

"When it's a best-of-three, it's such a quick turnaround and anything can happen," Mercurio said. "It all changes quick, so any momentum swings are huge."

If the Wolves can force a third game, it will be played at 6 p.m. on Sunday, also in Binghamton.

"All that aside, we still had chances to win the game and the series is just getting started," Mercurio added. "We'll play them again (today), so we have to be ready."

NOTES: Watertown coach Brian Verbeek returned to behind the Watertown bench after serving a four-game suspension to finish out the regular season. ... The Wolves wore their blue pinstripe and white jerseys, promoting the Watertown Rapids baseball team.