The Soo Greyhounds needed to be at their best.
Facing a 3-0 deficit and needing a win to avoid elimination from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Greyhounds forced a fifth game against the Saginaw Spirit thanks to a 3-0 win at the GFL Memorial Gardens on Thursday night.
The win means the series shifts back to Saginaw for game five on Friday night.
“That’s our best game of the series,” Greyhounds coach John Dean said. “We believe in there that we didn’t deserve to be down 3-0.”
“Credit to our guys for playing a detailed game,” Dean added.
A tight opening period saw the game remain scoreless with he Spirit holding an 11-8 shot edge in what was more of what the Greyhounds coach expected in the series.
Dean said the tighter game in game four was “how I expected the series to be for almost every single period.”
Jordan Sambrook opened the scoring just over six minutes into the second period when he converted a nice feed from Jaden Peca for what was the eventual game-winner.
Goals by Keeghan Howdeshell and Barrett Hayton in the late stages of the third period sealed the victory for the Greyhounds.
Morgan Frost assisted on all three goals for the Greyhounds.
“He was fantastic,” Dean said of Frost.
The veteran forward left the game late in the opening period with a shoulder injury, the same shoulder he injured in game three on Tuesday but returned to start the second period. Dean said the injury wasn’t a concern.
Matthew Villalta made 25 saves for the shutout.
“I haven’t seen a situation all year where Matthew Villalta hasn’t bounced back in a big game,” Dean said. “We’ve become accustomed to it. I’ll never count him out. He put in a good performance.”
For the Spirit, the game was one in which the team struggled.
“We had a hard time getting anything going,” said Saginaw coach Chris Lazary. “They did a good job being on top of us. We dumped too many pucks in and when we did, we had zero forecheck plan. It was just a bad night for us and good night for them.”
Saginaw goaltender Ivan Prosvetov made 26 saves.
“Without Ivan, it’s a blowout for sure,” Lazary said.
“He’s been good in the series,” Dean said. “In the playoffs, we expect good goaltending from both goalies, and he’s played well. We have to get traffic in front of him.”
Both coaches spoke of the short turnaround heading into Friday’s game as a good thing.
“The short turnaround is going to be good for us in terms of not having to worry about getting too high,” Dean said. “We can’t think about much. Just go (to Saginaw), sleep, and play.”
“The message to the guys is we just want to win the first period,” Dean added. “That’s our next step.”
For the Spirit, a good start to the game will be key.
“We have to get back to our game,” Lazary said. “We have to impose our will on them. They did a good job starting at home and we have to start at home now. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Puck drop for game five on Friday is set for 7:05 p.m. If necessary, game six is scheduled for Sunday night back at the GFL Memorial Gardens at 7:07 p.m.
In other action around the OHL on Thursday night, the Oshawa Generals got their series back on even terms with the Niagara IceDogs thanks to a 7-3 win at home. Anthony Salinitri and Nando Eggenberger had two goals each as the Generals. Game five is Saturday night in St. Catharines.
The Ottawa 67’s became the first team to advance to the conference final with a series sweep of the Sudbury Wolves. Tye Felhaber scored the overtime winner at 10:15 of the third overtime to give the 67’s a 3-2 win in Sudbury. Michael DiPietro made 58 saves for the 67’s while his counterpart, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen of the Wolves, made 60.
On Wednesday night, the Guelph Storm avoided elimination thanks to a 4-3 win on home ice over the London Knights. Nate Schnarr had a pair of goals for Guelph while goaltender Anthony Popovich made 39 saves. The Knights hold a 3-1 series lead as it shifts back to London for game five on Friday night.