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Gillis sends Panthers to Round 2 with overtime winner in deciding game

UPEI Panthers forward Taylor Gillis jumps in the air after scoring the series-winning goal in overtime Tuesday against the Unversité de Moncton at MacLauchlan Arena.
UPEI Panthers forward Taylor Gillis jumps in the air after scoring the series-winning goal in overtime Tuesday against the Unversité de Moncton at MacLauchlan Arena. - Jason Malloy

The UPEI Panthers are going to the second round of the Atlantic University Sport women’s hockey playoffs for the first time in their existence.

Summerside’s Taylor Gillis scored twice and Camille Scherger stopped every shot she saw as the Panthers defeated the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues 2-1 in overtime Tuesday at MacLauchlan Arena. With the victory, UPEI wins the best-of-three quarter-final 2-1. The conference went from a tournament to a playoff format in 2014.

“We haven’t had the best of luck in playoffs, but … finally to get that once bounce, it’s just the best feeling,” said captain Rachel Colle, a fifth-year Panther from Toronto.

She was on the ice in overtime as Kaylee Dufresne took a couple whacks at the puck, which bounced to Gillis at the side of the net and the sophomore buried it for the power-play goal to end the game and series.

“It was pretty awesome,” Gillis said. “It was a gritty game the whole time, but we came out on top and we definitely deserved to win.”

Dufresne and Colle earned the assists on the winner.

Longtime Panthers head coach Bruce Donaldson said it was an emotional victory and recalled his reaction when the series-clinching goal went in and his players shot off the bench to go pile on top of Gillis.

“I was looking up at the sky and just saying, ‘Thank you, God’. It’s so much work for these girls and for us to get through like this, it’s just awesome,” he said.

Pascale Lebeau opened the scoring midway through the first period for Moncton firing a puck through traffic from the blue-line. Janie Poitras had the lone assist.

Where other Panthers teams in the past would fear the worst, this year’s edition didn't waver.

“We knew it was going to come,” Colle said. “We kind of believed the whole way through.”

Gillis tied the game with 4:15 left in the second period when she rang her shot off the iron and in. Ally Clements and Kristen MacIntyre had the assists.

UPEI carried the play for most of the game, but Caroline Daoust was called for a questionable interference penalty with 2:32 left in the third.

Colle said the mindset on the bench was the team was going to killing the penalty and win it in overtime.

“We believed in ourselves. We believe in this team.”

MacIntyre blocked a shot during the penalty kill and Dufresne got the puck out of the zone and forced a faceoff in the Moncton end.

“It’s kind of our DNA,” Donaldson said. “We didn't give up a power-play goal in the whole series. … The girls love to defend that way. They’re shot blockers and they don't mind getting in harm’s way.”

Scherger made 17 saves for the victory while Audrey Berthiaume stopped 31 shots for Moncton.

The Panthers will face the second-seeded St. FX X-Women in Round 2 and will be looking to carry the momentum from the first series into Antigonish, N.S., for Game 1 on Saturday.

“Absolutely,” Gillis said. “We’ve been working our asses off so we’re just going to keep on rolling.”

“We’re ready to go,” added Colle. “We’re going to into X and give them everything we got.”

Game 2 in the best-of-three semifinal goes Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Charlottetown with Game 3, if necessary, taking place Thursday, Feb. 27, in Antigonish.

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