STONEHAM, Mass. -- It seemed half of the North Shore was at Stoneham Arena for last night's Division 2 North quarterfinal between Beverly and Danvers.
They got their money's worth as both goalies stole the show and Beverly squeaked out a 2-1 victory in a shootout to advance to the semifinals Monday against Lincoln-Sudbury.
The Panthers got goals from Nick Albano and Connor Irving in the shootout. Irving also had Beverly's goal in regulation. Danvers' Kyle Cahill scored the Falcons' lone goal in regulation and its only goal in the shootout.
“I never thought it'd end like this,” Beverly coach Bob Gilligan said. “We got some talented kids that can make some plays. We do the shootout at the end of practice the last few weeks, [and] there's a slew of them that can make some pretty good moves.”
The shootout ended the game, but it was the goalies who stepped into the spotlight and thrived. Danvers' Alex Taylor turned aside 41 shots, including 18 in the third period alone. Beverly's Tim Birarelli stopped 20 Danvers shots.
Taylor's third period was spectacular as Beverly's offense clicked on every cylinder but was unable to solve the junior.
“Obviously in the third period he was immense,” Danvers coach Kevin Brown said of Taylor. “In the second period he didn't see as many shots but third period he was there. I said last year the kid's a gamer. When there's a big game on the line the kid responds.”
Taylor was aided by a Danvers defense that played smart for the entire game. The Falcons kept their sticks low and forced Beverly into numerous low-percentage shots that Taylor was able to gobble up. When Taylor did have to stop one for the highlight reel he was able to.
Taylor stopped the last 39 shots he faced, excluding the shootout.
“No one gave us a shot coming into this, but we all knew we had a shot,” Taylor said. “I just didn't want to lose the game. There's such a huge rivalry, and I knew my team deserved more than that. It was just heartbreaking to go down like that.”
Gilligan said that the Falcons played his team smart on the defensive end.
“They're goaltending came up big,” Gilligan said. “They had a lot of blocks, we weren't getting the pucks through, but give them credit; they played well. I thought Taylor stood on his head at times. He had a lot of saves.”
Birarelli backstopped the Panthers and gave the offense the security it needed to press deeper into Danvers' zone throughout the game. Danvers used their offensive opportunities effectively but Birarelli was ready at every turn.
Birarelli was at his best during the shootout when he seemed to blanket the entire net. He turned aside four Danvers shooters who all threw something different at him but never made him commit first. His pad save on Kevin Hodgkins ended the game.
“Even in practice you can tell he locks down,” Irving said. “It's so hard to beat him side to side. He's such a good goalie; he's a big kid, he covers most of the net. He did an amazing job especially with all that pressure. He held the fort. He's the reason we won today. I love the kid.”
DEFENSE STALLS OFFENSE: Having already played each other twice this season very little was unknown between the two teams. The biggest battle going in was how the Falcon defense would gum up Beverly's high-octane attack that averaged 4.55 goals a game.
Danvers did it with an aggressive forecheck and funneling the Panthers to the boards through the neutral zone. It took Beverly a while to adjust and the Panthers never seemed to fully adjust.
“In the beginning they were sending a two-man, and then a one-man, forecheck to try to cut down the center of the ice,” Gilligan said. “Give Kevin credit; they played us pretty well. Our speed got sort of shut down.”
Last night was only the fifth time this season that Beverly failed to score three or more goals.
“We put ourselves in good spots on the ice,” Brown said. “Neutral zone, in the d zone shut down their speed early. We've seen them enough where we know what they do well; it comes down to effort. Our guys generally had the effort out there defensively.”