Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ECHL Playoffs: Steelheads Take 3-2 Series Lead, Need One on the Road

Coming into game six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals between the Ontario Reign and the Idaho Steelheads, all the momentum was in the Steelheads' corner. Coming off a 6-0 win on Friday night, the feeling was that perhaps the series was over. The game was a mere formality on the way to the Steelheads to taking a 3-2 series lead and heading back to Ontario already thinking Conference Finals. The result would go the way of the Steelheads, 2-1 overtime win, but someone forgot to tell the Ontario Reign to roll over and play dead.

The Reign came out with all the pressure and intensity of a team that knew it had an uphill battle to fight and that it would be much better to fight with the lead. Just 4:33 into the first period, Kevin Estrada would get his 3rd goal of the postseason after a goal mouth scramble, and about five saves by Steelheads goaltender Josh Robinson, to stake the Reign to the 1-0 lead.

It took the better part of the first period and a few thunderous Hubert Labrie hits to start to turn the tide. The Steelheads would start to find their legs at the end of the first period but had nothing to show for it even with an extended 5-on-3 power play. A suddenly anxious crowd had to sit through the first intermission with the Reign holding a one goal advantage.

In the second, the two teams continued to battle, and both defenses and goaltenders played outstandingly. The Reign’s Jean-Francois Berube made eight saves in the second period, but unfortunately the Steelheads had nine shots. Labrie would take a shot from the high slot and Berube was unable to control the rebound. This allowed for a crashing Adrian Foster to pick up the loose puck and slam it into the back of the net to tie the game at one with 3:39 left in the second period.

In the third period, both teams would have some chances as the teams totaled 18 shots, however there weren’t a lot of high percentage chances for either team, and for the second time this playoff series and the 5th time this postseason, the Steelheads headed to overtime.

In the overtime session, the Reign once again come out firing, getting all the chances until Austin Smith was able to skate down the right side of the ice and make a great shot tagged for the corner over Berube’s shoulder. Berube was able to make the glove save, but that one shot changed the tide, and the Steelheads refused to relent. David de Kastrozza would have his own chance on a mini break that again was stopped by Berube.

In the end it was Gord Baldwin, who just returned to the lineup after serving a two game suspension, making a great play at the left point to keep the puck in the offensive zone. After Chase Schaber picked it up in front of the net, he measured a backhander and deposited the puck in the back of the net at the 9:36 mark of the first overtime. The goal gave the Steelheads a 2-1 win and a 3-2 series lead as the two teams head back to Ontario for game six on Tuesday and game seven on Wednesday (if nec.)

Notes: Both teams were scoreless on the power play. Ontario went 0-3 and the Steelheads went 0-4… With Baldwin in the line-up all 6 of the Steelheads defensemen dressed for the game saw some time in the AHL this season… Josh Robinson has stopped 67 of 68 shots over the last two wins…Chase Schaber has four goals with the Steelheads and all four have been game winners. Two in the regular season and two in the post season…The Alaska Aces won their game on Sunday to pulled within one game of the Stockton Thunder. The Thunder lead the other Western Conference Semi-Final 3-2.

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