One year after heading to Owen Sound down a game and needing a win just to stay alive, the Soo Greyhounds find themselves in the opposite position this weekend.
The Greyhounds will prepare for game six of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Owen Sound Attack with the opportunity to advance to the Western Conference final.
The Greyhounds skated to a 4-1 victory over the Attack Friday night at the Essar Centre.
The win means the Greyhounds take a 3-2 series lead following a game they felt they were better in as the game wore on.
“We got out-worked and out-battled in the first period,” Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister said. “Five-on-five we were good for the most part and we competed hard but there were times early on where we were losing a lot of battles along the boards. We were letting guys skate by us. We picked up in the second half of the game and were a lot better.
After struggling early in the series, the Greyhounds seemed to have found their mojo in games four and five.
“We did a really good job getting above them,” Bannister said of game five. “We put good pressure on the forecheck and for the most part we were responsible. When we were above them, we didn’t give them opportunities and odd-man rushes, which is a key against a team that feed off the rush.”
Barrett Hayton scored the go-ahead goal in the opening period and added a second goal early in the third to help the Greyhounds to the victory.
Taylor Raddysh also scored for the Greyhounds and set up another goal. Boris Katchouk picked up three assists.
Goaltender Matthew Villalta made 28 saves.
“Matty had the one off-game where he didn’t play the way we thought he would but he had a bounce-back game in game four and was outstanding for us tonight,” Bannister said, adding that the sophomore goaltender “made a number of key saves.:
Attack Coach Todd Gill said the difference in the game was Owen Sound’s inability to capitalize on the power play. The team finished the night 1-for-8 on the man advantage.
“It wasn’t very good,” Gill said. “It cost us the hockey game.”
“Our penalty kill was outstanding tonight,” Bannister said.
That was without a key piece to the penalty kill as Hayden Verbeek missed the game for the Greyhounds with a concussion suffered in game four on a hit from Jacob Friend.
Bannister said the hit was reviewed but because Verbeek tried to play after the hit before leaving the contest due to symptoms getting worse, the league chose not to suspend the veteran Owen Sound defenceman.
“I’m extremely disappointed because we’re trying to get these hits out of the game,” Bannister said.
Bannister said Verbeek would be out for the weekend.
Olivier Lafreniere struggled in goal for the Attack, surrendering three goals on 15 shots in just over 24 minutes of work.
“You lose as a team and you win as a team,” Gill said.
Mack Guzda came in and stopped all 15 shots he faced the rest of the way.
Gill wouldn’t confirm who would get the start Sunday in Owen Sound.
Alan Lyszczarczyk had the lone goal for the Attack.
“Our execution has been off in the last two games for some reason and we’re making plays that we don’t normally make,” Gill said.
“Too many times in this series, we’ll score a goal and they’ll come down in the next shift or two and get one right back and that can’t happen,” Gill also said.
The injury situation remains murky for the Attack as Jonah Gadjovich remained out of the lineup.
Gill said he couldn’t answer whether the veteran forward would be back for Sunday’s game.
Asked whether it was an upper or lower-body injury Gill replied, “it’s on his body.”
Owen Sound also lost defenceman Markus Phillips with a leg injury. Gill didn’t have any further info on Phillips’ injury following Friday’s game.
Both coaches would say they would need their respective clubs best game in game six Sunday night in Owen Sound.
“There’s no question they’re going to be a desperate hockey club,” Bannister said. “We’re going to have to go in and play the best game of the year for us.”
“We have to win two games, it’s as simple as that,” Gill said of the approach to game six. “Hopefully we use our home-ice advantage and then come back here and play the game of our lives.”
In other playoff action on Friday night, Ted Nichol scored the game-winning goal at 18:52 of the second period as the Kingston Frontenacs beat the Barrie Colts 2-1 in Kingston. The win means the Frontenacs will advance to the Eastern Conference final to face the Hamilton Bulldogs, who beat the Niagara IceDogs in six games in round two to move on.
In Kitchener, Rickard Hugg scored at 7:56 of overtime to give the Kitchener Rangers a 3-2 win over the Sarnia Sting to take a 3-2 series lead heading into game six on Sunday. Mario Culina made 47 saves for the Rangers. The winner advances to the Western Conference final to take on the winner of the Greyhounds/Attack series.