04/30/2012 03:57 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Derek Meech is back as surging St. John's IceCaps advance in AHL playoffs

Derek Meech is making up for lost time.

The St. John's defenceman missed most of the AHL regular season with knee problems, but his late return has helped the IceCaps advance quickly in the playoffs.

"To have him for this playoff push has been huge added depth to our back end," coach Keith McCambridge said Monday.

"Obviously (it's) the way he plays on the ice, but (also) his competitiveness, his experience, his veteran leadership, the poise he plays with."

Meech and Aaron Gagnon are tied with three goals and five points each as the top scorers for St. John's so far in the playoffs.

Meech scored in overtime Friday to help the IceCaps earn a 3-1 series victory over the Syracuse Crunch. They open a best-of-seven semifinal series against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins at home on Tuesday night.

Meech signed as a free agent last summer, the 28-year-old Winnipeg native played only a handful of regular-season games — two with the NHL's Jets and six with the IceCaps — due to an injured knee.

He recovered from surgery only to re-injure himself after just three games with the IceCaps in January.

"It's definitely been a frustrating year," he said. "It's nice to be back in the lineup and contributing a bit, that's for sure."

Meech said the excitement in St. John's for playoff hockey has made it a great place to play in the team's first AHL season since moving from Winnipeg. Fans of the first incarnation of the Jets originated the idea of wearing white to support their team during the playoffs in the 1980s, a tradition IceCaps fans are keeping alive.

"It's been unbelievable. They've sold out the rink constantly throughout the season . . . We've got that whiteout going, the old Winnipeg whiteout, and it's nice to see that here in St. John's."

The IceCaps meanwhile find themselves with a number of players returning to the team after missing regular season games due to call ups or injuries.

"You have all these players coming back at the end of the season and you have short time to gel and find that chemistry," said Meech, who was joined by injury-plagued forwards Brock Trotter and Ray Sawada. "I thought we did a lot of good things in the first round and we're just trying to build on that."

McCambridge also pointed to the play of St. John's goaltender Eddie Pasqualle, who gave up 10 goals against Syracuse and made 138 saves for a .932 save percentage. The 21-year-old Toronto native is only playing in his second season in the AHL, after spending his first with the Chicago Wolves.

"He's been a difference in a couple of games . . . A young goalie who really developed during the season," said McCambridge.

Despite the late changes, McCambridge said the team's chemistry is getting better with each game.

"We had pretty much our whole team for two of the last three games of the regular season," he said.

"We wanted to make sure, as a coaching staff, that we got them as familiar with each other as quick as possible. . . . We feel that's happening here. Every game they seem to get more comfortable, feel that chemistry."