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Kings draw first blood in opening playoff series

Call it poetic justice. Call it karma. Or just call it playoff hockey. The Kings will call it a win, and that’s all that matters.

After Brennon Pearce took a questionable goaltender interference penalty with 1:35 left in the third to allow Cambridge to tie game one of the best-of-seven series 2-2 with only 0:48 seconds left on the clock, Pearce atoned for the penalty by scoring the game winner just 0:14 into the overtime period to lead the Kings to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.

Pearce rounded the back of the Cambridge net and took a shot on goal from just past the icing line, banking it off a Winter Hawk player and past goalie Colin Furlong.

“We were probably being a little too fancy tonight, and I said ‘boys, let’s just throw something on the net quick and get out of here early,’” said head coach Geoff Haddaway following the win. “I told Pearce that listening to the coach finally paid off. It was nice for him to get rewarded, because he deserved it.”

The game offered up exactly what the coaches and staff expected – a hard-hitting and close-checking game with excellent goaltending at each end. Furlong finished with 42 saves in the defeat, while Matthew Smith made 27 saves for the win.

Furlong held his team in the game, and throughout the first period in particular when Elmira peppered him with 23 shots but only managed to score once, courtesy of Ryan Clarkson on the powerplay from Lukas Baleshta and Wade Pfeffer at 17:51.

TWO-POINT NIGHT Lukas Baleshta splits the Cambridge defence on his way to the goal during third-period action Wednesday night. Baleshta finished with two assists on the night.

“You need good goaltending to win in the playoffs. Their goalie held them in, especially in the first period, but made some big saves in the third,” said Haddaway. “You look through the history of playoff hockey, and you need good goaltending.”

The Winter Hawks captain Ryan Clarke tied the game at 8:36 of the second with a tremendous shorthanded effort. Using his speed, he broke away from Shane Smith, who couldn’t keep the puck in at the point, and cut in front of the net and tucked the puck past the sprawling Matthew Smith.

The teams would enter the second intermission tied at one, with Cambridge outshooting Elmira 12-11 in the period.

In the third, Clarkson scored his second of the night at 9:59 on the power-play on a deflection from Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Baleshta. The Kings looked poised to win the hard-fought game in regulation before the penalty against Pearce with just 1:35 left. Pearce had a partial break against the goalie and appeared to be shoved from behind into the Cambridge goalie, leading to the goaltender interference call.

“That penalty was borderline, at best,” said Haddaway. “I just don’t think that call should be made, but that’s going to happen.

“It was deflating, but we know things are going to happen in the playoffs, it’s bouncing back and responding to that adversity and responding to the things that go against you. It’s never a smooth ride in the playoffs.”

The Winter Hawks pulled Furlong for the extra attacker to tie the game and force overtime, before Pearce ended the game just 0:14 seconds into the extra frame.

Game two of the series goes tonight (Saturday) in Cambridge at the Galt Arena, before shifting back to Elmira Sunday. All games in the series start at 7 p.m.

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