Owen McFarlane was too stunned to realize he’d just saved the Nelson Leafs’ season.
McFarlane was waiting by the net in overtime when Nelson captain Bennett Anklewich’s shot bounced off the boards right to him. That caught Beaver Valley goaltender Connor Stojan out of position, and gave McFarlane an easy target to score on.
It was McFarlane’s first KIJHL playoff goal, and the 3-2 win in Game 5 of the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal guaranteed the Leafs will play at least one more game.
He said after the game that he needed a moment to process what happened.
“I didn’t know what to feel to be honest. It was kind of all a shock at first and then everyone started hugging me. I was like, this is real, it happened. Game-winning goal, it was fun.”
Carsyn Crawford and Johnny Carmichael scored in regulation and Anklewich had three assists for the Leafs, while Frederick Larochelle made 24 saves in front of 1,148 fans at the Nelson and District Community Complex on Friday.
Gavin Tritt and Nathan Dominici had goals for the Nitehawks, with Stojan stopping 21 shots.
Game 6 is Saturday in Fruitvale. If necessary, Game 7 would be played Monday in Nelson.
Leafs head coach Briar McNaney said McFarlane deserved the spotlight.
“If there’s any better kid that could score that goal, I’d call you a liar,” said McNaney. “He deserves that probably more than anybody. I’ve never had him call me anything besides coach. He’s always asked questions at the board. He’s always here early. He’s cleaning up after his teammates. He’s a heck of a human being.”
Larochelle made the crowd buzz only a few minutes into the game. The Nitehawks were pressuring the Leafs when Larochelle slid to one side but was caught out of position. He managed to stretch out a pad just in time to stop what would have been a shot into an open net.
The first period was mostly dominated by the Nitehawks, who looked hungry to advance but also slowed down as the frame progressed. The Leafs meanwhile struggled to string passes together, were sent to the penalty box four times, and managed just three shots on net in the opening 20 minutes.
Yet it was the Leafs who opened the scoring in the second. Nelson was on a power play when Crawford’s point shot slipped past Stojan for the 1-0 lead.
The Nitehawks didn’t take long to respond. They were on a power play of their own when a point shot appeared to be deflected by Tritt into the net.
Both teams again traded goals late in the period. Beaver Valley took its first lead of the game when Dominici used a perfectly placed wrist shot to beat a screened Larochelle.
But Nelson responded just 39 seconds later. Bennett Anklewich won a faceoff, deked behind the Beaver Valley centre at the dot and made a quick pass across the crease to a waiting Carmichael for the tying goal.
McFarlane said he thought the team came to its senses in the first intermission.
“I think all the boys finally clicked and said, this is a do or die game. So I think we finally realized that and we just stepped up, came ready to play in the second and third.”
In the third period, Leafs forward Lucas Byrne appeared to make head contact with Stojan. That sent Byrne to the penalty box, and the Nitehawks had a tense moment waiting for their goalie to get off the ice. Play resumed a few moments later and Stojan looked no worse for wear.
That was about as eventful as the third period got. Both teams played terrific defensive hockey — McNaney said it was Nelson’s best defensive game of the series — and the game went onto overtime.
The math still favours the Nitehawks, but McNaney is confident his team can complete a comeback. He referred to last season when the Leafs went down 3-1 in the first round against the Castlegar Rebels before roaring back.
“We had three playoffs style goals tonight,” said McNaney. “We’re pretty happy with the performance and just keeping our heads in it, reminding the guys that last year we came back from a 3-1 series. There’s no reason we can’t do it again.”
Leaflets: Nelson or Beaver Valley will face the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in the next round. Creston Valley beat the Grand Forks Border Bruins 8-5 on Friday night to win the series in five games.
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