Even though the postseason has arrived, Stillwater needed a bit of a wakeup call.
With 17 seconds left in the first period, it got it. Unfortunately, Jake Jackson of Tartan delivered with a shorthanded goal to give the Titans a 1-0 lead after one period of play.
One year after having to go into double overtime to beat North St. Paul in the Section 4AA quarterfinals, once again as the No. 3 seed, it appeared Stillwater would be in another tight battle.
Stillwater needed a surge and it came from the power play, which got to work right away in the second period and helped the Ponies cruise to a 5-1 win against Tartan in the quarterfinals of the Section 4AA playoffs on Saturday, Feb. 26 at Aldrich Arena.
“I think we learned a lot about our team,” Ponies coach Phil Housley said. “We have to come out more discipline and more ready to play because when you play against better competition, starts like that are going to cost us.”
“Came out kind of slow, but you see what we did on the scoreboard,” Stillwater forward Nick Anderson said.
For the game, Stillwater was 3-6 on the power play and two of them, the Ponies first two goals, came 1 minute, 38 seconds into the second period to give it the lead for good.
Cory Erchul scored the Ponies first goal at the end of their first power play when he one-timed a pass from Anderson .
On Erchul’s goal, Jay Friberg received a roughing penalty in frustration after the whistle.
It was just 32 seconds later when Connor Danford fired a wrist shot that was able to get by Brian Loibl. In the third, Anderson put away a rebound while Stillwater was on the power play.
What was different about Stillwater’s production with the man-advantage was its big shooters from the blue line didn’t bury any in the back of the net.
“We worked the puck, moving it around and got some shots down low,” Housley said. “I think we are going to need to do that because teams are going to take away our chances from the point.
“It was important to get some shots down low because we are in crunch time. You have to take goals any way you can get them and with the power play, we did a great job getting the puck to the net.”
Special teams can turn momentum around and that was the case for Stillwater.
After being outshot 14-13 and giving up a late goal in the first, it got a chance to get back in the game and take it over in the second.
“In the first we came out a little slow, but got those power play goals in the second and everything just fell in place after that,” Anderson said. “It was a good time to start scoring some goals.”
With the win, Stillwater will take on No. 2 seed White Bear Lake 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
White Bear Lake won the Suburban East Conference and split with the Ponies in the regular season.
“It’s a big rival for us and we look forward to it,” Anderson said.
Last year both Stillwater and White Bear Lake met in the Section 4AA semifinals as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.
The Bears came away with a tough, hard fought battle to advance to the section championship two days later when it lost to Hill-Murray.
The two will meet for the third time this season, but this one is just a little more important.
Rivals in just about every sport, if a contest allows for physical play, both will push it to the max.
“It’s going to have some hits and be very physical,” Housley said. “That is what you expect when we play each other.”
If emotions run wild for the Ponies, there is one player they can look to and it’s the player that spends the most time on the ice. Goalie Blake Cates.
“He was our calming factor tonight, “ Housley said of Cates’ performance against Tartan. “You can always count on him to have a good game for you.”
Cates finished with 26 saves in Stillwater’s quarterfinal win and was in complete control of the game, never having to go out of his element of staying in the moment.
Despite his calm demeanor on the ice, Cates was confident and vocal on his thoughts for the Ponies semi finals game against White Bear Lake.
“We are going to beat them,” he said. “That’s what we need to do and we are going to do it.”
It was a less dramatic quarterfinal round for Stillwater as it cruised to a 5-1 victory against Tartan in the opener of the Section 4AA playoffs.
Nick Anderson recored a goal and an assist for the Ponies.
Blake Cates finished with 26 saves and was a calming factor after Jake Jackson of Tartan scored a short-handed goal with just 17 seconds left in the first to give the Titans a 1-0 lead.
Cory Erchul scored a power play goal to open the second for Stillwater.
Connor Danford put home the game winner on a wrist shot that beat Titans goalie Brian Loibl. Mike Kreutzfeldt concluded the scoring in the second period, putting away a goal off a feed from Blake Dochniak.
Anderson scored in the third and Jake Hoffman added another for Stillwater as it advances to the Section 4AA semifinals.
On Wednesday, the No. 3 seed Ponies will take on conference rivals and No. 2 seed White Bear Lake in the semifinals at the Coliseum.
Both split the regular season with a win each. The Bears, Suburban East Conference champions, only loss in conference play was to the Ponies.
White Bear Lake beat Mounds View 4-1 earlier in section play.
1. Nick Anderson, Stillwater
The sophomore scored a goal and had an assist for the Ponies. He has had a lot of chances to score for Stillwater this season and did his part in his first high school postseason game. On top of his two points, Anderson created more opportunities himself and was able to get the puck out of Stillwater's zone on a frequent basis.
2. Blake Cates, Stillwater
Stopped 26 of 27 shots to help Stillwater advance to the Section 4AA semifinals. Coach Phil Housley credited him as an important calming force after the first period, which saw the Ponies give up a goal with 17 seconds while on the power play. He was perfect the rest of the way and didn't give Tartan any chance to get back in the game.
3. Kyle Mogren, Stillwater
He had two assists in the game, but that is not the only reason why he gets a star. Mogren has had surgery on both of his shoulders and it looked like he may have hurt his left one early in the first period. Seeing him grab his arm in pain had to put a scare in Stillwater coaches, but Mogren went right back in after a quick break and was outstanding in both ends of the rink.