The consensus was that special teams was going to be a key as the Soo Greyhounds and Saginaw Spirit prepared for their second round Ontario Hockey League playoff series that opened on Friday night.
And what a difference it was.
The Greyhounds couldn’t capitalize on four power plays in the opening period in what was a 4-1 loss to the Spirit in the first game of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The Greyhounds finished the night 0-for-7 on the power play in the game.
“It definitely let us down,” said Greyhounds captain Barrett Hayton. “Special teams is huge in the playoffs and it was definitely disappointing not being able to get one on all of those opportunities.”
“We need to compete harder on the power play,” Greyhounds coach John Dean said. “In the playoffs, it’s not always going to be tic-tac-toe into the back of the net. It’s got to be more about second efforts on pucks, getting pucks to the net and getting traffic in front of the goaltender and scoring on puck retrievals.”
“Tonight, our intent was too loose on the power play and ultimately it was a big reason (for the result),” Dean added.
Spirit coach Chris Lazary said prior to the series that he anticipated special teams being a difference in the series and that feeling remained after Friday’s game.
“The biggest key in this series will always be the special teams,” Lazary told the Spirit TV broadcast. “Tonight, we won that battle and it was the difference in the game.”
“I didn’t like how we reacted to the first few,” Lazary also said. “We talk about it all the time. There are things happening in the game and they’re happening. You can’t change them. Now, how do you respond? We’ve done a phenomenal job, the kids have, of accepting what’s happening and finding solutions.”
After a scoreless opening frame, the two clubs traded goals in the second period.
Saginaw opened the scoring 94 seconds into the period when Owen Tippett in the slot converted a feed from defenceman Reagan O’Grady while Jaden Peca tied the game late in the period as he drove the net and redirected a feed from Keeghan Howdeshell to tie the game at one.
A power play goal by defenceman Bode Wilde was ultimately the difference as he beat Sault netminder Matthew Villalta from the right faceoff circle short side to make it 2-1 Spirit at 8:21 of the third period.
Tippett, who also had an assist in the game, and Damien Giroux would cap off the Saginaw scoring with empty net goals late in the contest.
Villalta stopped 29 shots.
At the other end, Ivan Prosvetov made 34 saves for the Spirit.
For the visitors, one positive from the man advantage situation early was the Greyhounds ability to draw the penalties.
“We were able to draw those power plays because we were playing hard,” Dean said. “We were forechecking hard. We were managing the puck exceptionally well coming out of our zone. The reason we got those opportunities was how strong we played five-on-five.”
“We played well (at even strength),” Hayton said. “A lot of the game, we took it to them. We played pretty well five-on-five.”
Dean said veteran Greyhounds forwards Zack Trott and Joe Carroll remained out day-to-day after missing the series-opener. The pair were injured in game four of the Greyhounds first round series against Owen Sound and their status for game two against Saginaw remained unclear following Friday’s game.
For the Spirit, the team got a boost as veteran forward Cole Coskey returned to the lineup after missing extended time due to a broken jaw suffered in mid-February but lost a veteran defenceman in game one against the Greyhounds as overage blueliner Reagan O’Grady was injured and left the game in the second period and did not return.
Lazary said following the game that O’Grady’s status for game two on Sunday was unknown.
Puck drop for game two in Saginaw is set for 5:30 p.m.
The series then shifts to Sault Ste. Marie for games three and four, beginning on Tuesday night at the GFL Memorial Gardens.
In other playoff action on Friday night, in Ottawa, Lucas Chiodo had three goals and an assist while Kyle Maksimovich assisted on four goals as the Ottawa 67’s took a 1-0 series lead over the Sudbury Wolves with an 8-5 win. Tye Felhaber also scored three times for the 67’s. Adam Ruzicka had a goal and two assists for Sudbury.
In St. Catharines, Jason Robertson scored 4:14 into overtime to give the Niagara IceDogs a 1-0 series lead on the Oshawa Generals thanks to a 3-2 win. Ivan Lodnia assisted on all three Niagara goals. Oshawa goaltender Kyle Keyser made 47 saves.
In London, the London Knights grabbed a 1-0 series lead on the Guelph Storm with a 3-2 win. Kevin Hancock had a goal and an assist for the Knights. Dmitri Samorukov assisted on both goals for Guelph.