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Penalty kill key for Plum in PIHL playoff opener

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:30 a.m.
Plum's Zack Keller (41) charges the puck against North Hills' Jordan Gayso during a PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup playoff game Monday, March 4, 2013, at Valley Sports Complex in New Kensington. (Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch)

Nine penalty kills and outstanding play in goal proved to be the difference as the Plum Mustangs won their opening round PIHL Class AA playoff game over North Hills, 6-3.

The Plum defense kept the Indians off the scoreboard during a frantic third period when North Hills had a two-man advantage for two minutes, 45 seconds.

Mustangs goaltender Taylor Cestra made some superb saves to keep Plum's season alive. She stopped 45 of 48 shots, and the game-winning goal was scored by freshman Zach Nolan, playing in his first varsity playoff game, at New Kensington's Pittsburgh Ice Arena, formerly known as Valley Sports Complex.

No. 8 Plum (9-10-1) plays top-seeded Bishop Canevin in the quarterfinals Wednesday night at 7:10 at the Mt. Lebanon Ice Arena.

“It's not the recipe we'd like for a win, but we'll take it.” Plum coach Dave Stonebreaker said. “We have been working very hard in keeping the shots down, and we didn't play a very good defensive game tonight.”

“I was so nervous and tired there,” Cresta said. “I had to move back and forth. I was just glad I was saving them.”

With the score knotted at 3-3 with 1:21 to go in the second period, Nolan lifted a shot from about 50 feet away in front of the Plum bench.

The shot found its way over the shoulder of North Hills goaltender Max Sikorski to give the Mustangs the lead for good.

“Sometimes fate has a way, and that's a freshman call-up getting the game-winning goal in his first playoff game,” Stonebreaker said. “He's a star tonight, and we're proud of him.”

Cresta, a PIHL all-star, didn't want to see her career end Monday night in her last home game.

“These guys are great. I couldn't be here without them. They're my rock,” she said. “This is my last year of boys hockey, and I'm glad we got the win.”

Cresta now has 692 saves on the season.

“That's a credit to the players we had on the ice during the penalty kills,” Stonebreaker said. “We wanted to keep that two-goal margin, and they realized what was on the line.”

Andrew Pagano had scored the fifth Plum goal when the puck got behind Sikorski and rolled on its side into the Indians goal with 12:01 left in the game.

Andrew Walters scored a second-period goal for the Mustangs, his 37th on the season.

Joe Randazzo had two goals for Plum, giving him 17 for the season.

Ninth-seeded North Hills finished the season at 8-12.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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