By Shawn Bednard | Macon Mayhem
The Macon Mayhem haven't hosted a home playoff game since the 2018-19 season, where they were swept by the eventual champion Huntsville Havoc. On Saturday Night, for the first time in two years, the Mayhem would welcome fans into the Macon Coliseum for a post-season game, and a chance to go to the President's Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 2017. After a road win in Huntsville on Thursday Night, the Mayhem could smell the blood in the water as they eyed the sweep against the defending champions.
Tension was palpable and anxiety was through the roof for the players on the ice and the fans in the stands at the Macon Coliseum. With short-shifts, a flurry of shots, and plenty of stoppages in play persisting through the frame, the high-shooting period would fail to result in a goal for either side. Huntsville would get the first advantage of the game, on the Power Play, but the Mayhem would bend just enough to not break. Macon would have the opportunity returned later in the period, but the Havoc would take care of business on the penalty kill. Early in the PP, however, the Mayhem would have a goal called off after a save on the goal line from Max Milosek. With the final tick off the clock, the score would remain deadlocked at 0, with a Mayhem shot advantage 14-10.
The more things change, the more they stay the same; a perfect prognostication of the first period and the second periods. In the second frame, the Mayhem and Havoc would once again fire a marginal number of shots, with both goaltenders doing their part to save what came by. The Mayhem would find a pair of opportunities on the Power Play, but be once again unable to convert them into goals. With 1:08 left in the period, Alex Berardinelli would break away from the pack and fire it past Jake Theut to give the latest lead possible for the Havoc in the second. Berardinelli's first goal of the post-season would only be celebrated for so long, as Brian Bowen would sneak a puck through the slimmest of margins :26 later to knot things up with :42 left in the period. The period would come to an end with a 1-1 game, with the Mayhem leading in shots 34-17.
Period three would be a mad scramble of different proportions between the two talented teams. Early into the final frame, Ryan Smith would have a perfect pass from Nate Kallen, and a perfect five-hole shot through Milosek's legs to give the Mayhem their first lead of the night, 2-1, with 18:58 to go. The Mayhem would continue to keep the foot pressing down on the throat, looking for every offensive opportunity they could muster in desperate search for the insurance goal. On the opposing side, the Havoc would go all-out in looking for whatever offensive opportunity they could find, searching for any angle to knot the game up and live to fight another game. Jake Theut would be brilliant in net in the third period in shutting the door, and when the final horn sounded, the Macon Mayhem would punch their ticket to their second trip to the President's Cup Final in team history.
This was the first home playoff win for the Mayhem since the 2017-18 season, a night truly three years in the making. Macon returns to the President's Cup Final for the first time since winning it all in the 2016-17 season. Pensacola awaits Macon, who the Mayhem were 10-0-2 against in the regular season.