The Nelson Leafs’ Rayce Miller scored at 13:11 of the third overtime period and Michael Crawford netted a hat trick to power the Leafs to a 5-4 victory over the Beaver Valley Nitehawks at the Hawks Nest on Saturday.
The Nitehawks shutout the Leafs in Game 1 on Friday, 5-0, but the Leafs came back more determined and more physical in Game 2 to tie the series.
“Our team has had to deal with a lot of adversity all year with injuries, and we’ve played with nine forwards and four defenceman since about October, so we’re use to that part of it,” said Nelson head coach Dave McLellan. “I thought we executed a pretty good game plan, even last night’s (Friday’s) game wasn’t really a 5-0 loss in our opinion and I told our guys that, and I really thought we showed a lot of resilience tonight.”
The Hawks overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third period to tie it, and held the edge in play in the three overtime periods. However, Miller would end it, winning a battle behind the Nitehawks goal and scoring when his centring pass caromed off the back of Hawk goalie Carson Schamerhorn and into the net.
The Nelson defence was solid, keeping the majority of shots to the perimeter and AP goalie Jason Mailhiot of the Midget Kootenay Ice was poised and deliberate in his rebound control, making several big saves in just his second start as a Leaf.
“They made some adjustments, based on how they played in the first game, and they keyed on our top players and played them physical and played them hard and that’s just what playoffs are all about,” said Nitehawks assistant coach Kevin Limbert.
B.V. opened the scoring when Allan Pruss deflected a Tyler Leicht shot past Mailhiot at 13:03 of the first period, but Nelson would respond on a Tyler Fyfe goal at 10:42.
Nelson then took the lead on the power play when Miller circled behind the net and sent a pass short side in front while drawing the goalie and d-man across the crease, leaving Michael Crawford standing alone with a wide open net to put the Leafs up 2-1 at 5:47.
The Hawks got it back on a goal from Kyle Hope. After David Nemes gained the blue line, he made a quick dish to Hope who wired it blocker side with just over two minutes to play. Crawford however would give Nelson a 3-2 lead before the period was out, taking a pass from Matt MacDonald at centre ice, then streaking by the Hawks defence and backhanding it under the arm of Hawks starter Drake Poirier.
“We got out of the gate a little bit slow and we didn’t have the start we were looking for and Nelson they came ready to play and battled us hard and were very physical against us,” said Limbert. “I thought we got better as the game wore on but we put ourselves in a bit of a hole early on.”
The Hawks outshot the Leafs 14-13 in the first, but Nelson played the Nitehawks tight in the second period giving B.V. little time and space to manufacture any quality scoring opportunities.
Crawford scored the only goal of the period, breaking in on a 2-on-1 with Brendan Smith, and ripping one low blocker side for the hat-trick at 17:51 to chase Poirier.
The Nitehawks would mount a comeback in the third. Reid Anderson’s point shot found its way through traffic at 16:32 to make it 4-3. Then with time winding down, Ross Armour would pick up the puck, rush down the right side, and fire a wrist shot at the goal. The puck squeaked through Mailhiot’s arm and lay waiting for Spencer McLean to bang it into the open cage with 1:26 remaining to send it to OT.
The Nitehawks outshot the Leafs 36-30 through three periods, and would control much of the play in the overtime, outshooting Nelson 22-15 but could not beat the 17-year-old Trail native or capitalize on a power play in the second OT when MacDonald was sent off for high sticking.
Sam Swanson came close when he burst over the blueline and ripped one off the post midway through the second OT, but a tired and shorthanded Leafs team hung on, and silenced an enthusiastic Nitehawk crowd with the sudden winning goal.
“It’s just the way the game goes, sometimes,” said Limbert. “We were pressing and sometimes when you do that you do expose yourself a little bit, and we had a bit of a breakdown there and they made a nice play and capitalized on our mistake.”
B.V. fired 58 shots at Mailhiot, while Poirier and Schamerhorn faced 45 Leafs’ shots. The Hawks were 0-for-6 on the power play while Nelson went 1-for-6.
In Friday’s match Poirier made 22 saves to earn the shutout as the Hawks opened the series with a 5-0 victory. Allan Pruss scored twice for the Hawks and added an assist, while Taylor Stafford and Jace Weegar had a goal and one helper each.
Nelson will have up to six regulars out of the line up, the Hawks are also hurting with defenceman Walker Sidoni and forward Michael Pruss day to day, and Jace Weegar out serving a three-game suspension for a head-contact major in the final 10-minutes of the game on Friday.
The Nitehawks and Leafs played Monday night in Nelson but the score was unavailable at press time.
The Hawks will face the Leafs tonight in Nelson form Game 4 at 7 p.m.
Hawks Notes: On Friday, the KIJHL awarded Mitch Foyle of the Nitehawks the Top Scorer and MVP award for the Neil Murdoch division, while Ross Armour received Rookie of the Year, and Michael Pruss the Most Sportsmanlike Player award.