The Elmira Sugar Kings finally bucked the trend Wednesday night and became the first team in either of the Midwestern Conference semifinals to win a home game. They did so by rallying from a two-goal deficit to win game-five against Brantford 5-4 in overtime at the WMC.
Through the first four games of the conference semifinals between Elmira and Brantford, and the first four games in the Guelph-Listowel series, the home team had not won a game.
That is until Brad Kraus banged home a rebound just 57 seconds into the extra frame to secure the win for Elmira.
“Yeah, that’s weird, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” said Haddaway of the trend.
Kraus’ goal, assisted by Josh MacDonald and Andrew Smith, gave the Kings a 3-2 series advantage heading back to Brantford tonight (Saturday).
“I just had a funny feeling with MacDonald, Kraus, and Smith, they had some great chances (throughout the game), and MacDonald was riding a hot hand, so it’s a great victory at home in overtime.”
Nick Horrigan won his second start in a row, making 42 saves in the victory.
The series has been a rollercoaster ride for both teams, as neither has been able to take control or gain any momentum, particularly at home.
After dropping game-one of the series 8-5 in Elmira Mar. 16, the Kings headed into Brantford last Saturday night looking for some redemption.
The team used a three-goal outburst in the first half of the first period courtesy of Lukas Baleshta at 2:40, Brad Kraus at 3:38, and Andrew Smith at 9:14 to chase Brantford goalie Stephen Heming. The team scored back-to-back shorthanded goals in the second from Brady Campbell at 7:53 and Cass Frey at 8:35 to help seal the victory. Andrew Smith scored at 6:30 of the third to finish off the 6-4 win.
The Kings looked to take control of the series back home the following night, but fell flat once again in front of the home crowd with a 5-3 loss.
Elmira scored once in the first (Brennon Pearce, 3:11), once in the second (Jordan Benton, 14:00) and once in the third (Frey, 17:06) but it wasn’t enough as Matt Smith surrendered five goals in the loss, finishing with 42 saves on the night.
Back in Brantford on Tuesday night, it was almost a must-win situation for the Kings as they didn’t want to head back home down 3-1 in the series, and they responded with a solid 5-3 win to tie the series at two games apiece.
Brantford opened the scoring just 1:41 into the first, but Elmira tied the game a mere five seconds later on a goal from Pearce, assisted by Jarred Parent.
Brantford took the lead at 12:41, yet Andrew Smith continued his strong play in the series by tying it up at two at 16:55 from Kraus and MacDonald.
The teams alternated goals in the second, with Smith scoring his second of the game on the powerplay at 18:32 from Baleshta and MacDonald.
In the third the Kings took control thanks to Baleshta who scored at 11:55 assisted by Frey, and Kraus added an empty-net goal at 19:21 from Andrew Smith.
Horrigan – making his first start of the playoffs – earned the win by making 38 saves.
On Wednesday night at home, Brantford looked to continue the trend of the road team winning each game
in the series, but the team was slow out of the gate.
Elmira took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes courtesy of Pearce at 11:04 from Parent and Campbell, and Campbell with an unassisted shorthanded goal at 18:51.
In the second, however, Brantford put that first period behind them and roared back to tie the game – and silence the stunned WMC crowd – just 2:04 into the period.
In the third period the trend continued as Branford took their first lead of the game just 33 seconds in, then made it 4-2 at 6:27.
Yet in the playoffs, sometimes a lucky bounce is all that is needed to shift the entire momentum of the series, and that’s precisely what the Kings got. During a delayed penalty against Brantford, Colton Wolfe-Sabo carried the puck into the Brantford corner and simply threw it in front of the Brantford goal, where it deflected off of MacDonald’s shin pad and in at 7:40 of the period.
“It’s just a lucky bounce, but hey, he (MacDonald) was going to the net. We had a situation there where we could gamble a little bit because of the delayed penalty and we took advantage,” said Haddaway.
The goal cut the deficit to 4-3 and the entire WMC erupted.
The team fed off that energy for the remainder of the third, and MacDonald continued his dominance of Brantford’s goaltending when he tied the game at 12:41 on the powerplay from Andrew Smith and Benton on a bad-angle shot from near the half boards. It was his second goal of the night and eighth point of the series thus far.
“It was unbelievable,” said Haddaway of the crowd support in the third period. “It means so much to the guys. The sound really carries here, so we could hear them, and our guys fed off the energy.”
Kraus nearly ended the game in regulation when a rebound went right to him in front of an open net, but he was hauled down with just 16 seconds left on the clock, sending Elmira to the powerplay.
Kraus got his redemption in the overtime frame, however, ending the game less than one minute in, jumping on a rebound right in front of the net.
The win puts the Kings one win away from a berth in the Cherrey Cup finals, which they last won back in 2008 when they beat the Cambridge Winter Hawks in six games.
For now, however, their focus lies on game-six of this series, which is tonight (Saturday) in Brantford at 7:30 p.m. Game seven, if necessary, goes tomorrow night (Sunday) at 7 p.m. at the WMC.