CORNWALL, Ontario -- It was billed the return of John Slaney and Marc Crawford, but it was John Byce and Byron Dafoe who took Cornwall, Ontario by storm last night.
Byce scored twice and Dafoe stopped 31 of 34 shots to lead the Skipjacks as they downed the St. John's Maple Leafs, 4-3.
The win improves the Skipjacks' record to 27-36-12 and puts the team five points ahead of the Hershey Bears in the fight for the final playoff spot in the American Hockey League's Southern Division. Both Hershey and the Skipjacks have five games remaining.
"We've gotten some great goaltending from Byron and Duane Derksen and that's what we need right now," said Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz. "It's important we get some wins in these remaining games, because we want to earn that playoff spot ourselves rather than back in by counting on a couple of Hershey losses."
The game and tonight's rematch between the clubs were moved to Cornwall because of the municipal workers' strike that has shut down the Leafs' home arena in St. John's for the past month-and-a-half. Cornwall is the off-season home of Crawford, the St. John's coach, and is where Slaney starred as a junior player.
Jason Woolley and Trevor Halverson had the other Baltimore goals.
Dave Tomlinson, Jeff Serowik and Yanic Perreault replied for St. John's, denied an opportunity to clinch the Atlantic Division title.
Both the Leafs and Skipjacks skated sluggishly in the firs period, but the Skipjacks managed a 1-0 lead. The goal came when Mike Boback cleanly won a faceoff, drawing the puck back to Woolley, who one-timed a shot to beat Leafs goalie Damian Rhodes.
St. John's took a 2-1 lead early in the third period on goals by Tomlinson, who scored on a three-on-one break, and Serowik on a blue-line blast during a Leafs power play.
Then Byce went to work, scoring his first goal just 22 seconds after Serowik had given St. John's the lead. Late in the middle period, the veteran left wing scored on the power play, sent in on a breakaway by Randy Burridge.
Burridge, who had both knees operated on during the off-season, is on a two-week conditioning assignment from the Capitals.
The Leafs pressed in the third, but Dafoe kept turning them away, allowing his teammates time to fashion the fourth and eventual game-winning goal by Halverson, who finished a four-on-one break with his 17th goal of the season.
Perreault added St. John's third goal on a power play with Rhodes pulled for an extra attacker at 19:56 of the third period.
Baltimore, which is 3-2-0 on its current road trip, finishes its swing through Canada with tonight's game and a matchup tomorrow with the Hawks in Moncton.
"Last year, we lost all seven games on a late-season road trip up here," said Byce.