After narrowly escaping a series sweep at home in Game 3 of their first round playoff series, the Boys returned to enemy territory for Game 4 last night. A tightly contested match ended in another one goal game with the good guys claiming a 1-0 victory on a goal scored with just over two minutes left in the third period. My personal highlight in this fourth game came in the dying moments when the Boy exhorted the already raucous visiting crowd to cheer louder. As he approached the dot for the final face-off of the game, I noted a grin which spread from ear to ear. The Boy and his teammates tied the series at two games apiece and had certainly turned the momentum of the series in their favour. That being said, they had merely claimed two one goal victories. Game 5, scheduled for this evening, would likely be another tight affair.
True to its billing both teams came our raring to play. They exchanged goal scoring chances at both ends of the rink. Both goaltenders also came prepared to play with each making his share of spectacular saves. But the visitors would open the scoring in the first period on a bang-bang play on a pass from behind the net. The score would remain 1-0 until the middle of the second period when the Boy would bang in a rebound to knot the score at one apiece. It felt again like the momentum had swung somewhat in the home team’s favour, but there was still plenty of hockey to play.
In the game within the game, I watched the opposing goaltender approach the Boy, who he knows quite well, and exchange some “pleasantries” during a stoppage in play when the net came off its moorings. The Boy would report after the game that the goalie joked about the quality of the equipment in this town. The Boy for his part says he reminded the netminder about the equalizer he had recently scored as well as a shot he had rung off his helmet earlier in the contest. The keeper retorted with a few choice names for the Boy. Gamesmanship; all in good fun.
Following a flood of the ice after the second period, the back and forth action continued with each team coming close to taking the lead. Bothy would take a couple of penalties, which led to some nervous moments as they fought off one-man advantages. Around the midway mark of the third period, the home side did appear to be a little fresher from my, perhaps biased perspective, but the visiting goalie continued to turn away their oncoming shots.
The tie was finally broken with just under four and a half minutes left in regulation time, when one of the bad guys battled for a puck on the sideboards. He was eventually able to throw a pass towards the front of our net. One of his teammates parked in the slot, about six feet in front of the goalie, was able to get his stick on the incoming pass, redirecting it quickly towards the goal. Another bang-bang play resulted in the goal, which would ultimately end the hard-fought first round series. Our boys would valiantly battle through the final four minutes of the game, including the final ninety seconds with no goalie and an extra attacker. They registered a couple more shots on goal, but were unable to get solid scoring chances or find the back of the net to re-tie the contest.
The game came to a inglorious conclusion for one team and a triumphant end for another. Sticks were raised at one end of the ice, while others were slammed down in frustration. But in a typical show of post-series good sportsmanship, the teams would line up at centre ice to shake hands; presumably wishing each other, sincerely or otherwise, good luck in their future paths. The way the playoff system is structured, these two teams could conceivably face each other again down the road, should our boys win a round or two and the recent victors lose in one of their next couple of rounds.
The team is understandably disappointed going out in the first round, but they play in a very competitive division. The Boy knows this all too well as he’s played in this same division against many of the same players and teams for five years; with each year being a struggle to reach the big finish line. Hell, three of the four opening round series went to five or six games with several matches only being decided by one goal.
The Boys fought hard in this series. They are to be commended for having come back from two games down and trailing in game three; having lost a goal scorer in the process. Nearly every league contest this year provided a challenge; save for a few games against a couple of lesser light teams. All of the players on this team knew, or certainly should have known, the playoffs would bring more of the same. Playoff success would require their best efforts, combined with bounces and blessings from the ever-present hockey gods, in order for them to have a chance to advance through any round on their journey. Perhaps a better start to this series would have made a difference, but that’s all woulda, coulda, shoulda at this point.
It’s now time to reset their focus on winning a new round against a new opponent on their way towards a regional league, rather than provincial, championship. We get a few days off now as we wait and see who that next opponent will be.
As I say all too often, there is still plenty of hockey to play.