By Chris Varias
Cincinnati Enquirer Contributor
CINCINNATI – So much for the talk of a home-ice disadvantage.
After sneaking past the Wheeling Nailers in a series where the visitor won the first six games, the Cincinnati Cyclones began the second round of the ECHL playoffs the right way, routing the Elmira Jackals 8-3 at U.S. Bank Arena Friday night in the best-of-seven North Division finals.
It was a Cyclones club record for goals in a playoff game, set in front of a crowd of 2,552.
Cincinnati jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period, kept the contest out of reach in the second period and turned it into a blowout in the third.
Cyclones coach Chuck Weber anticipated a slower pace in the Elmira series than the speed-and-skill game favored by the Nailers. The Jackals played a grinding style in the regular season similar to Cincinnati’s – both teams ranked in the Top 10 among ECHL teams in penalty minutes. The Cyclones fought 81 times in the regular season, the third most in the league. The Jackals’ 76 fights were good for fourth place.
But the Jackals failed to put up much of a fight.
In the first period, they were out-shot and out-skated while digging an early two-goal hole and were as listless the rest of the way.
“They’re gonna be fine,” Weber said of Elmira after the game. “They just got done playing in a tough seven-game series, and they just bused into town.”
Forward Ian McKenzie added to the lead five minutes later in the first period on a goal off of a rebound. It was McKenzie’s first goal of the playoffs, and he scored again in the third period.
The second period resembled the first. Matt Syroczynski scored his sixth goal of the playoffs on a power play with under 13 minutes to play in the period. Later in the second, Dustin Sproat notched the first of his two goals in the game to give the Cyclones a 4-0 lead.
But when Jimmy Kilpatrick assisted Sproat on a feed from behind the net a minute into the third period, the Cyclones had back their four-goal lead and the Jackals couldn’t recover.
“We just saw what it was like to get behind in a series, and we didn’t want that to happen again,” Sproat said.
Cyclones goalie Loic Lacasse saw less action than his Elmira counterparts. Cincinnati won the shots-on-goal battle 33 to 24.
Right wing Justin Johnson scored two third-period goals for Cincinnati.
The win makes it two in a row at home for the Cyclones. They won Game 7 of the Wheeling series in double-overtime Monday at U.S. Bank Arena.
It remains to be seen whether that means the home-ice factor has now sorted itself out. It didn’t matter in the Elmira-Cincinnati regular-season series: Five of the seven games were in Cincinnati, but the Jackals won three of them and split the games in Elmira.
Weber was happy to win on home ice but not over-excited by the scoring display.
“A blowout win means absolutely nothing,” he said. “This isn’t going to be a short series.”
The Cyclones host Elmira at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Game 2.