Beaver Valley Nitehawks goalie Connor Stojan pitched a shutout, Boris Hristov scored the game winner, and the home team lived to play another day.
With their season on the line, the Nitehawks forced a Game 6 in the best-of-seven Neil Murdoch Division final with a 4-0 victory over the Creston Valley Thundercats on Friday, March 10 at the B.V. Arena.
“It’s everything,” said Nitehawks captain Gavin Tritt. “Obviously it’s win or go home, and we brought a different mentality tonight then the other games and we got it done, but we are not done yet.”
No one expected that Nitehawks forward Hristov’s goal 7:30 into the opening frame would stand up as the game winner, but that was all the Nitehawks needed. The Calgary product scored his eighth of the playoffs on a setup from Tyson Tokarz and Brody Martini to give B.V. a 1-0 lead.
“I thought we came out really hungry in the first period, played the right way,” said Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones. “Just thought we got them back on their heals for once in the series and we got our offensive game going with a great play by Hristov, and the power play got one, and Connor Stojan gives us a chance every night.”
Creston took a 3-1 series lead after winning 3-2 in Game 3, and a triple overtime 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday, where Creston outshot B.V. 96 to 69.
The teams had a day off to rest up for Game 6, but the intensity and grind of a six-period playoff game was still a factor.
“It would be hard not to be tired from that, it’s pretty much two games in one night,” said Tritt. “Especially our goalie Connor Stojan, he made 90 saves, the guy is unbelievable.”
Trail product Joel Smyth tallied his third of the playoff and 11th point to make it 2-0 less than three minutes later, with assists to Ollie Clement and Kaleb Percival.
After Creston’s Cooper Walbaum was sent off for hooking, Hristov worked the puck to Eithan Grishin and his point shot found its way through traffic and between the pads of Creston goalie Jacob Burnside for a 3-0 lead with 5:30 left in the first.
In the second period, the teams battled back and forth, but it was a tight checking match with little flow. The Thundercats frustration began to show when leading scorer Blake Anderson took an undisciplined four-minute penalty for spearing and a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the middle frame.
With 8:38 remaining in the third, Tritt forced the play in Creston’s end, stripping the puck off the Thunder Cat defenceman and sending it out front to Austin McKenzie who beat goalie Parker Forrest shortside for a 4-0 lead.
The Thundercats were unable to generate quality chances, until the final minutes when back-to-back B.V. penalties gave Creston a two-man advantage. The Cats’ pressured and their best chance came on a backdoor pass to Anderson who one-timed it at the open net, but Stojan stretched across and made a massive glove save with two minutes left in regulation.
Stojan stopped 41 shots in the shutout, while B.V. fired 41 shots at the Creston net also. Beaver Valley went 1-for-6 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
“We have to bring the same mentality we had tonight,” said Tritt. “We have to play with a Game 7 mentality every night to beat these guys. They have some good players, and we were able to shut them down tonight.”
The Hawks head to Creston for Game 6 on Saturday, with the puck drop at 7:30 p.m. Game 7 goes in Fruitvale at the B.V Arena on Monday, March 13 at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the Kootenay Conference final, and the KIJHL semifinal.
“We have to come out and play our A game, we haven’t done it yet this year in playoffs, and we need 60 minutes,” said Jones.
In the Eddie Mountain Division final, the Kimberley Dynamiters beat the Fernie Ghostriders 4-2 on Friday. Fernie leads the series 3-2, and will be back home on Saturday night for Game 6.