GENEVA, Ill. — One game into the playoffs, and the season is on the edge. In a goaltending duel between Dubuque’s Lukas Parik and Chicago’s Simon Latkoczy, it was the latter who came out on top. Latkoczy made 29 saves on 30 Fighting Saints shots and shut down the Saints after letting in an early goal, and Chicago got just enough offense to outlast their opponents 2-1 on Friday night at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal round. The Steel lead the best-of-three series 1-0.
Dubuque looked to press down by a goal in the third period, and fresh off of a late penalty kill, but Chicago’s forechecking scheme continued to roll the clock down further, and the Fighting Saints were unable to get Parik to the bench for the extra attacker late in regulation time. Henry Thrun’s final bid was blockered away from Latkoczy, sealing the win for Chicago.
Matt Coronato jumped on a failed clear by the Fighting Saints with moments remaining in the second period, and cut to the left circle. His elusive snap shot beat Parik to the glove side and gave Chicago a lead they would not relinquish. The goal came with just nine seconds left in the second period, and built on Chicago’s opening tally in the second period.
Erik Middendorf scored at 10:04 on a break through the neutral zone, and while using Thrun as a screen off the rush, whipped a wrist shot into the back of the net to tie the score.
It was the Fighting Saints who struck first in the opening period. Max Montes stripped the puck away up the left wing wall, and fed defenseman Braden Doyle at the point. His shot from the blue line ricocheted off of a Steel defender in front and bounced past Latkoczy for the opening tally. Dubuque was 19-5-0 when scoring the first goal all season, and led the opening period 1-0.
Parik came up monumental at multiple points throughout the game.
His toe save on Sean Farrell on an odd-man break kept the score 1-0 in the first period. He made a spectacular glove save on Adam Fantilli all alone in the slot with the game tied at one in the second period. He continually denied Chicago’s power play throughout the night, and aided the Saints to a 2-for-2 finish on the night on special teams.
In all, the Czech netminder made 27 saves on 29 Chicago shots on goal. He held a league-best Steel offense, which averaged just under five goals per game, to just two in Game 1.
Latkoczy steadied the ship for Chicago, as the Steel were outshot 10-3 by Dubuque in the opening period. It was the Slovak’s ability to control rebounds that prevented the Fighting Saints from cashing in on second chance opportunities throughout the night. The Saints outshot the Steel 30-29 for the game.
The Fighting Saints’ loss in Game 1 sets up a must-win Game 2 on Saturday night at Fox Valley Ice Arena to force a decisive Game 3 on Sunday night. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m. The game can be heard on the Fighting Saints Radio Network on Mixlr, or seen on HockeyTV.