by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
Desperation can serve as an invaluable stimulant. Even when not at your very best, it makes you compete a little harder and grind with more intensity.
That was the case for the Soo Greyhounds on Tuesday. Determined at all costs to avoid a 3-0 series deficit, the Hounds started quickly and finally made Flint goalie Luke Cavallin look mortal.
The result was a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Firebirds before 3,037 at GFL Memorial Gardens. That trimmed Flint’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven, Western Conference semifinal, heading into Thursday’s fourth game in the Sault (7:07 p.m.).
“We needed that for sure. It was a must-win and we knew it,” said Hounds winger Tyler Savard, who connected on the power play, scoring his team’s third of three, first-period goals. “And you have to win on home ice.”
“We were definitely desperate,” added centre Rory Kerins, who scored the Hounds second goal of the night, and his first of the playoffs. “We worked hard, we had a lot of second effort and Tucks (Tucker Tynan) played a great game in goal. That’s what we needed from him tonight.”
The opening frame proved critical for the Hounds, who took the lead for good just 4:57 in.
“Obviously, our first 20 was really good. We were very physical in the first period,” said head coach John Dean, who thought his team played hard and with desperation, especially in that opening frame. “I’m very proud of our scrap and I’m very proud of us bending but not breaking and finding a way to get a win.”
That said, the coach didn’t like the way his team performed over the final 40 minutes. However, he explained how, for a lot of his players, protecting a lead in the playoffs was a novel experience.
“Tynan was the difference in the game,” said Dean, whose club was outshot 31-29. “They out-chanced us in the last 40 minutes.”
Returning from a three-game OHL suspension, Tynan was solid for two periods and clutch in the third.
With the home team protecting a 3-1 lead, the veteran netminder robbed Gavin Hayes alone in front at the 3:44 mark, before making a slick pad save on a Coulson Pitre backhander a minute later.
Hayes scored his second goal of the night at 12:09 to make it a 3-2 game. But Tynan thwarted him again in front of the Soo goal with 4:35 left in regulation.
Sitting out, after being assessed a match penalty for roughing in Game 4 of the conference quarter-finals against Guelph, was “terrible” Tynan admitted.
“You just watch time go by and hope for the best,” he added. “When I had the chance to get back in, I wanted to do my job.”
Tynan said he felt confident on Tuesday, noting how he had “no issues” from the down time.
“I feel I was solid for sure,” he added. “A lot of guys were blocking shots in front of me. It was a do-or-die mentality.”
During the first two games – both 5-3 losses in Flint – the Soo fired a combined 114 shots on Cavallin, who was brilliant.
But on Tuesday, Jordan D’Intino’s hard work led to an early turnover and the London, Ont., native’s second goal of the post-season. Kalvyn Watson fed D’Intino, whose backhander beat the Flint goalie high to the blocker side.
“Your start is everything in the playoffs,” said Savard. “Momentum is huge.”
Kerins picked off an errant Firebirds pass, skated in and beat Cavallin low to the glove-hand side to make it 2-0 at the 10:10 mark.
Noting how he’s been over-thinking scoring chances, the veteran centre spoke of just wanting to get the puck on net.
“Obviously, I wanted to get a goal,” he said. “But the win is more important.”
Two minutes after Kerins scored, and with the Soo on the power play, Bryce McConnell-Barker made a slick play, driving through the middle of the Flint defence. Cavallin made a pad save on the first-year centre’s scoring attempt.
But Savard went hard to the net and lifted home the rebound for a 3-0 lead.
Asked about the significance of his club’s fast start, Kerins spoke of how “you can’t win a game in the first period, but you can definitely lose one.”
Hayes trimmed the Firebirds deficit to 3-1 with a power-play tally late in the second period.
After the game, Flint head coach Ted Dent talked about how his team “competed and stuck with it and made the game close.”
Heading into Thursday’s clash, Dent wants to see “better puck management on the walls. When in doubt, we just have to get the puck out.”
Dean talked about how the Hounds need to forecheck better on Thursday than they did in the final two periods on Tuesday.
“And we need to play with more confidence, more killer instinct,” he added.
“They’re going to come out with more,” Kerins said of the Firebirds and what he expects from the visitors in Game 4. “But we’re going to come out with more, too. It’s a critical game in the series and we have to play better.”
Hounds defenceman Jack Thompson missed Game 3 while sitting out a one-game, OHL suspension. At first, the OHL website had the veteran rearguard handed a five-minute match penalty for checking from behind at the end of Sunday’s game in Flint. However, that was later changed to a five-minute major.
After making contact with Cavallin’s skate blade, Savard suffered a five-stitch cut, just below his left ear, late in the second period on Tuesday. The feisty winger wore a cage for the third period.