Photos by Metcalfe Photography
All of a sudden it’s now do or die for the Sarnia Sting.
The Saginaw Spirit built up a 4-0 lead early in the second period and went on to knock off the Sting 5-2, Friday night in front of 4,164 disappointed fans at the RBC Centre.
With their back-to-back victories Saginaw now holds a 3-2 lead in the best of seven Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarter-final playoff series.
The Spirit can advance to the next round with a victory in game six on home ice Saturday night.
Sarnia must win to force a seventh and deciding game on Monday night at the RBC Centre.
A slow start really hurt the Sting. Sarnia was behind a goal before the game was a minute old, behind 2-0 after three minutes and down 3-0 before 16 minutes had been played.
“It’s disappointing because the kids should be geared up,” said Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu. “We talked to them on Thursday and again before the game about being aggressive and keeping our feet moving. We didn’t do those things early.”
He added, “The compete level was not good in the first period and we got down 3-0. We got better as the game went on. We need the kind of effort we had in the third period in the first period.”
Defenceman Dalton Young opened the scoring for the Spirit 50 seconds into the game when he wristed a shot from the point into the top corner. Michael Fine increased the lead to 2-0 at 2:49 knocking in a rebound off a point shot.
Brandon Saad out Saginaw up 3-0 at 15:35 when he cut around the Sting defence and slipped the puck past Sting goalie J.P. Anderson.
“That goal took the wind out of our guys,” said Beaulieu. “It hurt because we had some chances in the first period to cut the lead in half and didn’t do it.”
A poor line change resulted in Saginaw’s fourth goal just over a minute into period three when Young scored his second of the game following up on a two-on-one break to knock in a rebound.
Sarnia finally got on the scoreboard at 15:40 of period two when Brett Thompson scored on a wrist shot through traffic from the slot area. Ludvig Rensfeldt and Anthony DeAngelo gained assists.
The Sting put on a push in period three and had several great scoring chances. Craig Hottot was stopped from point blank range while Alex Galchenyuk shot wide on a breakaway.
Sarnia cut the lead to 4-2 at 14:08 on the power play when Thompson was left alone in front of the net and finished off a centering pass from Ryan Spooner. Connor Murphy also assisted on Thompson’s second of the night and third of the playoffs.
But the thoughts of a comeback ended when Saad scored his second of the night into an open net with just over a minute remaining.
Saginaw held a 39-27 edge in shots on goal. Sarnia was one-for-four on the power play and Saginaw zero-for-four.
The Sting won game two in Saginaw in overtime, so they know they can win on the road. They have to.
“It’s do or die. We need to keep winning these next two games to survive,” said Beaulieu. “We believe in this crew they can get the job done. We have to get a good night’s rest, be ready and get off to a good start tomorrow in game six.”
– Defenceman Steven Strong of the Spirit had three assists and was named the game’s first star. Young had two goals and was second star while Thompson also had a pair of goals and was third star.
– The Sting made one lineup move inserting defenceman Jack Kuzmyk and taking out forward Justice Dundas.
– Saad finished with two goals and one assist and leads all scorers in the series with six goals and five assists for 11 points.
– Captain Nathan Chiarlitti tried to get his teammates going in the second period when he dropped the gloves with Garret Ross. It was the first fight of the series.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.