Reading, PA – The Reading Royals (win, 41-21-2-1=85) of the ECHL, affiliate of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, defeated the Elmira Jackals (loss, 22-34-3-5= 52), 4-1, a Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The Royals’ victory, when combined with tonight’s regulation loss sustained by the Florida Everblades to the Cincinnati Cyclones, propelled Reading to become the first team in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference to clinch one of the eight available playoff spots.
Reading struck twice in the first period and built a 4-0 lead after bagging back-to-back power play goals late in the second and early in the third before Elmira could finally break up the shutout bid by Royals’ goaltender Riley Gill (win, 18-12-1-1, 28/29). But that would prove too little, too late, as the Royals stretched the team’s win streak against the Jackals to ten straight.
The Royals hit pay-dirt 8:16 into the first period, when Sean Wiles drew the attention of Elmira’s defenders deep on the left side and landed a cross-crease saucer for a waiting Ryan Cruthers, who drilled the puck behind goaltender Neil Conway (loss, 8-8-1-2, 35/39) for his fourteenth of the year.
Reading took a 2-0 lead with what would prove to be the first pro game winner for forward Kevin Walrod. Similar to the team’s first goal, Ethan Cox gained possession below the goal line on the left side, took the defensive pressure, and set one on a tee for Walrod who was planted wide open and all alone in the low left slot. Walrod quickly snapped off a hot one-timer over the left arm of Conway for his fifth of the year.
The Royals stretched the lead to 3-0 with 40.5 seconds remaining in the second on the team’s third power play chance of the game. Aaron Gens walked the blue line from the right point to the middle of the high slot where he fired a hard snap shot. Wiles, who was set up six feet off the top of the crease, deftly deflected the puck back against the grain to the low right side of the net for his nineteenth of the season.
After killing an early power play chance for the Jackals in the opening moments of the third period, Reading capitalized on the team’s fourth opportunity with the man advantage 3:03 into the final frame. Marvin Degon drilled a 120 foot pass from deep in the defensive zone to Cruthers, who split a pair of Elmira defenders at the offensive blue line and carried in for a clean breakaway. Cruthers went forehand-backhand top shelf for his second of the game and his seventieth goal as a Royal—just one goal short of the all-time team record held by Olivier Labelle.
Elmira broke up Gill’s shutout bid with just 7:35 left in regulation when defenseman Patch Alber carried deep down the left wing side and fired a pass to the top of the crease where a crashing Harry Young angled the puck up and over Gill for his third of the year.
But that would be it for the Jackals, as Reading reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the third time this season.
The Royals and Jackals go at for the final time this season tomorrow (Saturday, March 29 @ 7:05 pm) when the Royals travel to First Arena in Elmira, New York. Saturday’s game night broadcast will kick off at 6:35 pm et on CBS Sports Radio 1240 am and 98.5 with the Highmark Blue Shield Warm-Up Show. As with all Royals’ road games this year, Saturday’s game will be televised live locally in Berks County, Pennsylvania on BCTV courtesy of Boscov’s Travel and Apple Vacations.
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