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Ice put Hitmen up against the wall
Ryan McGill nearly proved himself right
The Kootenay Ice head coach told Alanna Nolan of Shaw TV in a quick second-period interview that no lead was safe when his team was up 5-2 in the middle of Game 5 against the Calgary Hitmen.
Despite a late push from the hosts, the Ice escaped the Scotiabank Saddledome with a 6-5 win over the Hitmen, giving them a 3-2 edge in the series with a chance to close out the first round on home ice on Saturday.
Sam Reinhart had a monster night with a goal and four assists, while Jaedon Descheneau tallied twice and notched a helper. Luke Philp hit the scoresheet once again, while Levi Cable and Matt Alfaro also provided offence.
The game-winner, scored by Descheneau at the end of the second period, came with some controversy.
The Kootenay Ice sniper took a cross-ice pass from Reinhart off the rush and buried it with less than a second—in fact, it was 0.1—left on the clock.
The clock on ShawTV broadcast showed that the shot went in after time had expired, however, the official time from the WHL's video goal judge showed that the puck crossed the line with 0.1 of a second on the clock.
The WHL even released a brief statement to clarify the ruling.
"The video evidence in the video goal judge booth clearly showed the puck had crossed the line with 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock. The video goal judge booth is considered the official time clock when reviewing goals and is the same system utilized by the NHL."
Calgary had two goals after 40 minutes from Adam Tambellini and Elliot Peterson, and Tambellini added another in the third period along with Greg Chase and Kenton Helgesen.
While Kootenay's scorching powerplay has been on the the storylines this series—it is second overall in post-season rankings at 34.5 per cent—it was the even strength play that was noticeable this time around, with five of the six goals scored while playing five-on-five.
"That's big," said McGill. "Our powerplay scored a big goal off the rush, and to get those even-strength goals from guys like Alfaro is big."
McGill elected to start Wyatt Hoflin, who came in for a period and a bit of relief in Game Four, and picked up his second playoff win with 26 saves—including a big spot on a penalty shot from Helgesen.
"He did excellent," McGill said of Hoflin's performance. "He had great composure, he made some big saves in the third period on [Brady] Brassart in tight, and he was real effective in eliminating Calgary's forecheck when he got an opportunity to handle the puck."
The Ice finally chased Chris Driedger from the crease in the second period after their fourth goal, and also beat Mack Shields twice in a combined total of 24 shots. Driedger, a third-round selection by the Ottawa Senators in the 2012 NHL Draft, has given up a total of 20 goals in 127 shots, has a post-season save percentage 0.864 and a goals against average of 4.45.
That's not to say Kootenay Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski hasn't struggled between the pipes. The New York Rangers prospect has a save percentage of 0.832 and a GAA of 5.25 in the last four post-season games.
However, those numbers make it seem as if both teams have thrown their overall defensive play to the wind, while relying on the snipers to outscore each other.
Following the trend for four of the five games in the series, the Hitmen scored first, with Tambellini finishing a pass from Chase on the powerplay.
Descheneau notched his first of the night to knot it back up again three minutes later on Kootenay's first crack at the man-advantage. Reinhart put the Ice in the lead in the final minute of the period, banging in his own rebound after intercepting a Hitmen pass in the neutral zone.
Less than a minute into the second period, Cable notched his second marker of the 2014 post-season when he cut in off the rush and beat Driedger stick side for a two goal lead. Peterson drew it back to a one-goal deficit for Calgary three minutes later, when he picked up a loose puck and fired it home.
Ice rookie Matt Alfaro scored his first career playoff goal, sniping a nice dish from Zach Franko, who had two helpers on the night. That would be it for Driedger, who was replaced with Shields.
Just a minute after Alfaro's goal—on the first shot Shields faced—Philp got a deflection on a point blast from Troy Murray for a three-goal lead.
Helgesen managed to make a dent in the Hitmen deficit, scoring on the powerplay after muscling out from the sideboards and beating Hoflin in the slot.
With the seconds ticking down in the frame, Reinhart took a drop pass from Cable in Calgary territory and snapped a cross-ice pass to a streaking Descheneau, who beat the buzzer when he roofed it.
Calgary came out desperate in the third with a three-goal mountain to climb.
Hoflin came up with a huge save on a penalty shot from Helgesen, but Chase scored Calgary's fourth goal right in front of the net with seven minutes remaining in the game.
With Shields on the bench and six attackers on the ice, Calgary got another one from Tambellini, but that would be it for the scoring as Kootenay held off a blistering Hitmen attack in the final 90 seconds.
The Ice will have a chance to close out the first-round on home ice this Saturday in Game 6.
McGill has no illusions on what Kootenay will be expecting.
"Desperation and urgency from Calgary," he said, "and no different from our team."
NOTES: Kootenay forward Tim Bozon, who has battled meningitis for the last month in Saskatoon, spent his last night at Royal University Hospital on Thursday, and will be at Saturday's game for a ceremonial puck drop. Reinhart's performance puts him on top of the WHL post-season scoring race with 14 points. Descheneau is the runner up, one point behind his linemate. The Ice box office will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday for tickets to Game 6.