By the Skin of Their Mouthguarded Teeth
I’ve said it before, I lived it coaching a “last place” team a little over a year ago and I’ll say it again…playoff hockey is a different beast; all bets are off once ya hit the second season. Case in point this time around is a first round series just completed, which pitted the Devil’s 17-3-2 team (scoring nearly 4 goals per game) vs. their seventh place foes who finished at 9-13. During the season the Sharks had prevailed in the head-to-head series with 4-1 and 5-0 wins along with a 1-1 tie. That tie had, of course, come just before the playoffs began, setting the stage for what we were about to watch.
In game one on home ice, the girls came out decidedly flat skating to 1-1 tie in a series to be determined by the first team to reach 4 points. One point each to start meant at least three games would be required to solve this one. It felt like from where I stood like some confidence had been shaken.
Game two would surely see the girls return to their prior dominant form? But instead, we witnessed a few weak markers for the home side, our goaltender pulled in favour of the day’s backup and a 3-1 deficit going into the final frame. To their credit, the Sharks did fight back countering with three goals in the third for a narrow 4-3 victory. No guarantees for a positive outcome in the third and final game. If the challengers were able to secure a victory in regulation time, the series would actually need to be decided by a 10 minute overtime period. As chance would have it and to further demonstrate the playoff point, the first place team was embroiled in a similar battle of their own vs. #8. The first place squad, who hadn’t lost one game during the entire regular season entered their last match in must-win mode after registering a tie and a loss in their first two.
Off to the third and final match, where the Devil and her mates were finally able to get off to a quick start, taking a 1-0 lead only 20 seconds in. Unfortunately, their advantage would quickly evaporate and turn into another 2-goal deficit as the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the second period. A goaltending change had been made for a second contest in a row. The girls would need to come from behind yet again if they hoped to advance to the next round. Luckily for them and our frayed nerves a 3-3 tie would be enough to move on. And the game would indeed be tied with about six minutes remaining. The keeper, who’d been bailed out by her partner one game earlier, returned the favour by making a few big stops down the stretch. The Sharks would avoid a round one upset, but definitely not without some tense moments.
Bring on round two against a stronger opponent who finished the season just behind our girls in third place and a separate concurrent provincial playdown series against one of only two teams the girls have not beaten yet this year. It won’t get any easier from here on in. That being said, our ladies can move forward and derive confidence knowing they came back from two goals down two games in a row to take the first one. More playoff challenges to come. The unpredictability of it all is a big part of what makes it so much fun.