CRESTWOOD -- With his team facing elimination in its quarterfinal series of the Kennedy Cup playoffs, coming off a blowout loss in Game 1, St. Rita senior forward Mike Perry knew the Mustangs needed to play with a greater sense of urgency.
“Our preparation for the game wasn't the best,” Perry said of the series-opening 5-0 loss. “We're all excited it's the playoffs but we weren't playing it like a playoff game. We have to work extra hard in the playoffs and outplay our opponents.”
St. Rita was able to do just that in Game 2 on Thursday. Perry and fellow senior forward Trent Scianna scored goals and senior goaltender Mike Menard was huge in net, coming up with 37 saves as the Mustangs beat Carmel 2-1 at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.
The result set up a winner-take-all third game, set for 2:40 p.m. Saturday at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills.
The winner will advance to take on top-seeded St. Ignatius in the semifinals.
In the opening game of the series, St. Rita fell behind 3-0 in the first period and was never really in the game.
St. Rita assistant coach Stan Sojka, filling in for head coach Brian Coleman, knew his team needed to come out fast this time.
“The big focus was on finding energy,” Sojka said. “After the big loss on Tuesday, we needed to find a way to get energy quick, right off the bat. We were focusing on doing the little things right. We focused on having the first lines go out there and do anything they could to get the bench fired up.
“We wanted to get that elevation of excitement and get the energy up. We wanted to get off to a good start.”
It was Menard who sparked his team with a series of big saves in the first 10 minutes of the game.
He stopped Evyn Jensen on a shot from in close then made a big kick save to deny Kerry Eberhardt, who was open in front of the net off a nice pass from Niko Kempa.
Menard, who was named a Chicago Catholic Hockey League All-Star, made another save on Eberhardt moments later.
“I definitely got in my groove early,” Menard said. “I was facing a couple shots here and there, not like I was bombarded or anything.”
Carmel goaltender Dylan Lloyd, who followed up on his shutout in Game 1 by making 20 saves Thursday, knew an early strike by his team would have completely altered the momentum of the contest.
“I think the tone would have been different if we could have scored early, but he’s a CCHL All-Star for a reason,” Lloyd said of Menard. “He’s good. We need traffic in front. That’s how four of our goals were scored in Game 1.
“We’re not going to score from the point. We have to crash. St. Rita did a good job doing that on their offense and that’s what killed us.”
Menard’s early saves got St. Rita fired up.
“The boys feed off Mike’s energy,” Sojka said. “Any big save, any blocked shot, anything in the defensive end that prevented an opportunity for the other team brought excitement for our bench.
“I think that’s what propelled us to our first goal. We started blocking more shots in the second and third periods and kind of built off that.”
St. Rita, which was outshot 38-22 for the game, picked up its offense late in the first period and carried it over into the second.
The Mustangs earned the game’s first power play early in the second period and capitalized.
Junior forward Luke Maher played a pass to senior forward Joe Kostelc, who found Scianna in front of the net. Scianna was able to redirect the puck into the net to make it 1-0 with 11 minutes, 28 seconds left in the second period.
“We were coming in on a hard break and we've got two floor checkers,” Scianna said. “I was the third guy, high. In that position, I want to be open and ready for an opportunity to put the puck on net. I positioned myself in front of the net and it went off my stick and my skate.
“It was all position at that point and hustle from my line mates. That's what you're looking for”
Perry made it 2-0 with 14:58 left in the game, ripping in a one-timer from the slot off a pass from behind the net from junior forward Jacob Moyer. Scianna also assisted on the goal.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” Perry said. “After Tuesday's game and getting our butts kicked, it was a good feeling to have that two-goal lead. It settled everyone down and we were able to play our game.”
Menard and the St. Rita defense kept the shutout intact all the way until 2:45 remained in the game, when Kyler Gornick scored for Carmel.
That was the only offense the Corsairs could muster, though.
“I thought we played well,” Carmel coach Paul Eberhardt said. “I think their goalie deserves a lot of credit. He made a lot of great saves. Their team deserves a lot of credit for blocking shots and getting the puck out. We were having a difficult time breaking through.
“It was a good, clean playoff game. It was fun.”
Eberhardt does not see the need for any major changes heading into Game 3.
“I liked our game,” he said. “I thought we played really well. We just have to repeat it in Game 3 and hopefully it goes our way.”
Sojka, meanwhile, feels the key for the Mustangs will be not letting the intensity of a deciding game get to them.
“Composure is the big thing,” he said. “We have to keep level-headed. We can’t be too high, can’t be too low. We show up to practice (on Friday) ready to go and it’s a whole new game Saturday.”