by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
Centre Rory Kerins stood in the hush of his team’s dressing room on Thursday, explaining how he’s confident the Soo Greyhounds are more than capable of rallying from a gut-wrenching defeat.
“We’re quiet now, but we’re not down,” said Kerins, whose team dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Flint Firebirds before 3,599 at GFL Memorial Gardens. “We still believe we’re going to win the series. We’ve got a job to do and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“There’s no doubt in our minds that we can win the series,” added defenceman Jack Thompson.
Moments earlier, Flint’s Brennan Othmann took advantage of a fortunate bounce in order to make the Soo’s task much more difficult.
After Zack Terry’s shot from the left point hit a Greyhounds player in front of the goal, the puck ricocheted quickly to Othmann, who was perched in the right face-off circle.
The New York Rangers prospect wasted no time, blasting a one-timer past Tucker Tynan, who had no chance on the play.
The OT marker, at 8:37, gave the Firebirds a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven, Western Conference semifinal, heading into Saturday’s fifth game in Flint (7 p.m.).
Othmann’s eighth goal of the playoffs was also his third game-winner in Flint’s last four post-season victories.
“He finds ways to get it done and he’s in the right spots to score goals,” said Firebirds head coach Ted Dent, whose team won the first two games at home before splitting two games in the Sault.
The fact remains, however, puck luck played a role in the deciding goal.
“Othmann has a yawning cage waiting for him. That’s tough luck, that’s really tough,” said Hounds head coach John Dean, who spoke of how hard his players tracked back to the front of the net, only to have a rebound wind up on a Flint stick.
Dean also talked of how the Game 4 loss was not for a lack of effort.
“It was a good bounce for them and a little bit lucky,” added Kerins. “But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
“A heartbreaker for sure,” said rookie winger Jordan D’Intino. “We definitely didn’t want to see it go in. But it is what it is.”
And so the Soo is left to quickly pick up the pieces, board the team bus Friday morning and head to Flint. They do so knowing they must win three straight to extend their season.
Asked if Thursday’s setback will take an emotional toll on the Hounds, Kerins said no.
“I don’t think it takes anything out of us. It’s disappointing, but in the playoffs, somebody’s going to win,” answered Kerins, who had a pair of assists and was an outstanding 24-for-34 in the face-off circle. “Bounces just didn’t go our way tonight.”
“Guys competed, they blocked shots, worked hard, boxed out and kept things to the perimeter,” said Dean, whose club held a 41-36 edge in shots and certainly created more Grade A scoring chances than their opponents. “There’s no doubt in my mind these guys will respond really well on Saturday. They respond to adversity better than any team I’ve ever coached.”
As was the case in Tuesday’s third game, a 3-2 Hounds victory, the home team came out quickly on Thursday.
Thompson took a feed from Cole MacKay and fired the puck from the right face-off circle. Firebirds netminder Luke Cavallin, who’s been a series standout, was able to get just a piece of it. The goal, just 5:11 in, made it 1-0.
Just over three minutes later, with the Hounds skating on a 4-on-3 power play, MacKay found Tye Kartye in front. The Kingston, Ont., native quickly released a shot that grazed the far post and settled in the net, beating Cavallin stick side.
But the Firebirds battled back, scoring twice in a span of 2:42 late in the opening period.
Dmitry Kuzmin set up Braeden Kressler in front of Tynan at the 16:07 mark, before Othmann fed Sahil Panwar and the Mississauga native tied the game with a high shot on the glove-hand side.
After a scoreless middle frame, Tynan robbed Gavin Hayes in the slot five minutes into the third.
And Cavallin made a key blocker save on MacKay with 6:40 to go in regulation.
MacKay blocked a shot early in overtime which led to a 2-on-1 for the home side. However, the shot by Kartye, who has seven goals in the playoffs, missed the net from the slot.
“Overall, I thought we outplayed them,” said Thompson, whose goal was his sixth of the playoffs. “For sure, we had our chances to win late.”
The veteran defenceman talked of how “if we play our game, we can beat them. We just have to put three games together, one at a time.”
If the Hounds can win on Saturday, Game 6 is slated for Monday (7:07 p.m.) in the Sault.
Should the series go the distance, Game 7 is slated for Wednesday in Flint (7 p.m.).
D’Intino spoke of how tough it was for he and his teammates to surrender their 2-0 lead on Thursday.
“We were very physical and unreal on the forecheck early,” he added. “But we kind of got away from that in the second period. However, we know we’re the better team. We just have to come out and prove it.”
Dent said the Firebirds will take nothing for granted.
Cavallin “saved our butts a few times in the third period and overtime,” he added. “But we’ll forget about this now and get ready for Saturday. Until you get that fourth win, nothing in playoff hockey is safe.”