LOWELL — After clanking the post three times in overtime, Burlington deposited three of its four chances in the shootout, earning a 2-1 victory over Winchester in the Division 1 North final at Tsongas Center Monday night.
“I thought it was a fitting ending, even though it was a shootout,” said Burlington coach Bob Conceison. “Give a lot of credit to Winchester. It was a heck of a game.”
After goalie Derek DeCastro (27 saves) turned aside three of four Sachems shooters, Joey Scali followed up goals from Joe Berardi and Adam Crowley to clinch the victory, giving the Red Devils the chance to defend their Division 1 state championship at TD Garden on Sunday.
“It feels great because a lot of people were doubting us,” said Crowley, who snapped one high-right on his shootout goal. “It definitely wasn’t easy, but we put our nose to the grindstone every day and came out with wins when it really mattered.”
The Red Devils (13-6-5) set the tempo early, using size and strength to stall the Sachems in the neutral zone for the better part of the first period while they pushed into the Winchester end.
Trying to break a scoreless tie, Burlington’s C.J. Grinell snapped off a last-second shot from the slot that Winchester goalie James Offner (36 saves) turned aside, like the nine prior shots that he saw in the first.
In the second period it was DeCastro’s turn to feel the heat as Winchester (16-6-3) ratcheted up the pressure, launching nine shots, all handled with care by the senior goalie.
Offner continued to mind the Winchester net flawlessly, stopping another nine shots in the frame, none bigger than a behind-the-back stick save on Berardi, who shook free with the puck on the doorstep only to be thwarted with a little more than five minutes on the clock.
“He was the best player on the ice,” said Winchester coach Matt Spang of his goaltender. “I can’t say enough about what that kid did tonight. That was just absolutely phenomenal goaltending.”
Berardi would get his revenge early in the third period when he collected a puck low in the Sachems’ zone, skated around the back of the net to the left side, and delivered a backhand shot that caught a piece of Offner and trickled over the line for a 1-0 Burlington lead.
“No one came at me so I just brought the puck out front,” said Berardi. “I just kept digging to the net and put it up.”
Nolan Redler returned the favor for Winchester four minutes later when he fired a shot from the point that sailed high past DeCastro for his fifth goal of the postseason.
In the waning moments of regulation, the Red Devils had traffic in front of Offner when Tom Hanafin sent a shot past the Sachems’ goalie, but the puck struck the left post and the game was overtime-bound.