HAMILTON, Ont. -- They were admittedly low on energy, but the Hamilton Bulldogs fought their way to a victory in their second of three games in three days on Saturday.
Patrick Holland scored two goals, including the winner, and Robert Mayer made 42 saves as the Bulldogs defeated the Peoria Rivermen 3-1 in American Hockey League action.
Holland explained that his team's overnight bus ride from Grand Rapids had left the players physically drained on Saturday, but credited his teammates and his goaltender for a hard-won game.
"Today, I really felt like I had spaghetti legs and I'm sure a lot of the other guys did too," said the winger. "These are games where you have to let the puck do a lot of the work and just subdue what they throw at you.
" 1/8Mayer 3/8 played an awesome game and made a ton of big saves for us. He kept us in that game."
Joey Tenute also scored for the Bulldogs (24-28-6).
Derek Nesbitt had the lone goal for the Rivermen (25-26-7), while Mike McKenna stopped 25-of-27 shots.
Holland brought the long-standing 1-1 tie to an end at 13:20 of the third, when he and Tenute sprung a 2-on-1 break.
The centre skated in across the top of the circle and elevated a cross-ice pass to Holland, who quickly corralled the puck and fired a one-time shot low and past McKenna at the far post.
Peoria opened the scoring at 2:49 of the first, with the two teams playing four-on-four after offsetting penalties to Stefan Della Rovere and Jordan DeSantis.
T.J. Hensick put the extra ice to good use and carried the puck into the high slot before releasing a wrist shot that deflected off a defenceman in front of the net. It took a fortunate bounce for the Rivermen and slid to Nesbitt on the right wing, who easily slotted a shot into the open net as Mayer scrambled to regain his position.
The Rivermen dominated play for much of the first, and peppered Mayer with 18 shots in the period.
The goaltender was unsurprised by his team's slow start on Saturday, given the long night that the players endured on Friday.
"We started badly, and I sort of expected that because we had a long bus ride yesterday and came here, which was tough on the guys," said Mayer.
"I knew that if I made some saves, the guys would settle down and settle in, and that's what we did."
Despite being vastly outplayed, the Bulldogs found an equalizer when they embarked on a power play late in the period.
Peoria's David Shields was whistled for high-sticking at 18:01, and Hamilton wasted no time in making the ensuing man-advantage count.
The first faceoff of the power play was drawn back to Holland, who allowed a screen to develop before blasting a low slap shot that deflected off of a Rivermen defender and past McKenna at 18:02 of the first.
Peoria had an extended opportunity to take the lead early in the second, as Hamilton's Stortini was assessed roughing and unsportsmanlike penalties at once, giving the Rivermen a four minute power play at 3:21.
But the Rivermen did little with their advantage, and it was the Bulldogs who posed the greatest threat to score on a shorthanded, 3-on-2 break that ended when Michael Bournival forced an alert save from McKenna.
Hamilton took four minor penalties in the period, but successfully killed all of them to maintain the 1-1 deadlock as the teams headed into the second intermission.
Mayer lauded his team's ability to congest the blue-line on the penalty kill, and deny opposing teams entry to the offensive zone.
"The guys are playing a very good trap and our coaches give us really good insight on other teams' power plays," said the goaltender. "If they get into the zone, I make the saves and we play as a team on that penalty kill.
"We take a lot of pride in it and that's why we have success in the games."
The Rivermen pushed for a second goal in the opening minutes of the third, narrowly missing a gaping net on two separate occasions as the Bulldogs' defenders scrambled.
A break for Bournival with nine minutes to play had promise for the Bulldogs, but McKenna was equal to the task as the forward fired a low wrist shot that was intended for the five-hole.
Mayer brought the Copps Coliseum crowd to its feet fifteen minutes into the third, when he produced a flurry of saves during a goal-mouth scrum to preserve the tie.
Tenute added an insurance goal for the Bulldogs into the empty net at 19:34 of the third.