The third time truly was the charm for the Soo Greyhounds in the opening round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
After being taken to a seventh game, the Greyhounds held on to beat the Sarnia Sting 4-3 on Tuesday night at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre to advance to the Western Conference semi-final.
Tuesday’s win came after the seventh-seeded Greyhounds took a 3-1 series lead, only to see the Sting, the second seed in the Western Conference, battle back in the series with a pair of 5-1 victories in games five and six.
The Greyhounds held off a late charge by the Sting that included a goal with just over two minutes left in regulation time to cut the lead to one.
“If you watched the last couple of minutes and how desperate we were to keep the puck out of our net, guys were willing to put their bodies at risk and do whatever they could to keep the puck out of the net,” Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister said.
Veteran goaltender Brandon Halverson would say that seeing teammates block shots is a motivation for him as well.
“Guys were sacrificing and laying their bodies down to get the job done,” Halverson told TVCogeco.
“That’s what I love, I love seeing our guys go down (to block shots),” Halverson also said. “It makes me work even harder.”
A 36-save performance from Halverson, which included 15 saves in the third period, helped the Greyhounds to the victory.
“Towards the end of the third he had to make some really good saves,” Bannister said.
Bannister would also talk about the belief the team had in the series.
“Internally we said it all along that we believed in this team and that we could win this series,” Bannister said. “We took the long way but we’re a team that’s learning, getting bigger and getting stronger and starting to believe more and more in ourselves.”
With the game tied at two, Greyhounds captain Blake Speers scored on a three-way passing play 27 seconds into the third period to give the visitors the lead again. Boris Katchouk would then make it 4-2 just over seven minutes later.
“It was a great goal the way it developed and it fed to what we were telling the kids that we had to create more offense five-on-five,” Bannister said of the Speers goal. “It was an uplifting play for our bench.
“Certainly it helped guide us through in the right direction,” Bannister added.
Katchouk finished the night with a goal and an assist while Gabe Guertler and Bobby MacIntyre also scored. Zach Senyshyn assisted on a pair of goals for the Greyhounds.
Troy Lajeunesse had a goal and two assists for the Sting. Jakob Chychrun and Nikita Korostelev also had two assists each.
Pavel Zacha and Anthony Salinitri had the other Sarnia goals.
Goaltender Charlie Graham made 13 saves.
Sting Coach Derian Hatcher told the Sarnia Observer that high-scoring forward Travis Konecny, who was injured in game two, would still have been “about five days away,” from returning to the Sting lineup, had the team advanced.
“He had a grade two tear in his shoulder. Friday would have been two weeks and it was a two-to-four week injury,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher also said surgery wasn’t needed for the injury and the Philadelphia Flyers prospect spent five days in Philadelphia to begin rehab for the injury.
The Greyhounds second round series begins on Friday night in Erie with game two 24 hours later. Puck drop for both games is 7 p.m.
Game three is Monday night in Sault Ste. Marie. Puck drop at the Essar Centre is 7:07 p.m. Game four is Apr. 13, also at the Essar Centre at 7:07 p.m.
If needed, game five is in Erie on Apr. 15 with game six on Apr. 17 in Sault Ste. Marie (2 p.m.). Game seven is scheduled for Apr. 18 in Erie.
In, North Bay, Mike Amadio had two goals and an assist to lead the North Bay Battalion to a 4-1 game 7 victory over the Peterborough Petes. Kyle Wood had a goal and an assist while Cam Dineen assisted on a pair of goals for North Bay. Mathew Santos had the other goal for the Battalion. Goaltender Jake Smith made 27 saves. Josh Maguire had the lone goal for the Petes.
In Barrie, after falling behind 1-0, the Barrie Colts scored five unanswered goals, all in the third period, to beat the Mississauga Steelheads 5-1 in game seven to advance. Justin Scott scored three times for the Colts while Kevin Labanc added a goal and two assists. Andrew Mangiapane chipped in with a goal and an assist for Barrie. Michael McLeod had the lone goal for the Steelheads.