For the first time in two years, the Ice Wolves face elimination (without the chance to win themselves) in the SJHL Playoffs. Many of the Ice Wolves hopes in this series hinged on being perfect at home and stealing one on the road. With a 3-2 loss at the Mel Tuesday night, the Wolves fall behind the Broncos 3-0 in their Conference Semi-Final and have their backs firmly against the wall.
Tuesday's game started out well for the Ice Wolves. They were physical and kept the pressure firmly on the Broncos. It certainly became evident the Broncos weren't in a comfortable position. Time after time, the Broncos tossed pucks out of play to relieve the pressure, but the Wolves kept coming. Humboldt weathered the storm and turned things around on La Ronge, holding tough pressure on La Ronge for the next ten minutes or so. Once the Broncos got their footing in the game, they controlled the play by pressuring the Wolves into a lot of giveaways and mistakes. In the first period, the Wolves did great job of recovering, and though they were outshot, they weren't really out-chanced. The Wolves took back momentum late in the period and on the powerplay, Marc-Andre Carre sniped his first of the post-season to give La Ronge a 1-0 with 12 seconds left in the opening frame.
The second period started very similar to the first period, but this time the Wolves were able to score with their pressure. Aaron Enns banged home a rebound to give the Wolves a very important two goal lead. Carre assisted on the goal and almost had another if not for Logan Sproule managing to tip a puck off his stick with M-A-C looking at a near empty net off a rebound. The Wolves kept up the pressure for another couple minutes before the pace they were holding couldn't be held up. Humboldt never really panicked and started to roll things back the other way. The RBC Hosts kept hounding the Wolves in their own end and eventually it paid off. The Wolves top D-pairing had a couple chances to get the puck out, but Andrew Herle prevented the clearing attempts/passes and held Humboldt in the zone. John Lawrence got the puck to the front of the net and after a few whacks, Robbie Ciolfi got the Broncos within one. At this point the game truly started to shift. The Ice Wolves got into some penalty trouble when the officiating did a bit of a 180 from earlier in the game. No complaint with the actual calls, just with what had been let go up until that point it seemed odd that three penalties were called in a short amount of time. At the same token, as I said on the webcast, there's only so much you can let go before a bunch of calls will be made.
The Broncos took advantage of their second powerplay opportunity when Taylor Duzan raced to the outside on the rush and found Andrew Johnston in front who redirected the pass behind Alex Rajotte to even up the game. The Broncos dominated the rest of the period, but the Wolves managed to get into the third tied up to regroup.
The Wolves never really got back in the game, at least to the degree they had in the first and second. Whether they ran out of gas from trying to maintain that high pace or the Broncos figured out a way to just slow them down I'm not sure. Humboldt picked up where it left off in the second with the great pressure in the Wolves zone. When a team is as fast as the Broncos are, they can afford to keep those forwards deep longer, because they can get back on D in ample time.
Early in the third, Andrew Johnston intercepted a puck at centre ice and turned the play around in the blink of an eye, catching the Ice Wolves defence a little flat footed. On the ensuing 2-on-1 Johnston snapped home his second of the night to give Humboldt a 3-2 lead. The Broncos had a few more brilliant opportunities, but Alex Rajotte was sensational the rest of the way keeping the Wolves in the game. The Ice Wolves couldn't get a third goal, though, and the Broncos went on to celebrate their tenth win (overall) in a row against La Ronge.
The Broncos are a team playing with a ton of confidence right now, and on a good team like Humboldt, that's a dangerous thing. When they got down, there was no panic, just a methodical return to the systems they run and a commitment to the game plan. There are a lot of skilled players on the team, but it doesn't seem like anyone tries to do too much with the puck. Certainly looking impressive early in the playoffs.
I find it interesting who has been victimizing the Ice Wolves in this series, especially last night. Robbie Ciolfi and Andrew Johnston both have a bone to pick with the Wolves knocking their teams (Yorkton, Flin Flon) out of the playoffs. Both have four goals in the three games of the series, and aren't showing any signs of slowing down.
When the Wolves were successful against Flin Flon in the Survivor Series, they were getting contributions from pretty much every line every night. In this series, that hasn't really been the case. The scoring has been relatively localized and the Wolves need their secondary scoring to get in on the act. The Hladun, Boyer and Smerek line has been held pointless in the last three games. They've had some chances and have cycled the puck well, but haven't been able to find the back of the net.
We'll really see what the Ice Wolves are made of tonight. They have a long, and very difficult road ahead if they're going to pull off an unthinkable return from this 3-0 hole. It starts with one game, then another and so on, so the first step has to come on home ice. The Wolves are a proud team and certainly aren't going to roll over for the Broncos and we'll see what they can make happen tonight at the Mel.
I'll have the webcast starting at 7:25 as the Ice Wolves will try to manufacture a miracle.