First, sorry for not getting a recap on here for Game 4. I was nearly done my post when my internet cut out, killing my post. At this point I gave up, as it happens far too often. Take heart, though, the tech was in to take a look at it, and hopefully I'm good to go.
On to Game 5. Here are some stats that I drummed up from an old article in by NHL.com's Rob Picarello in 2003 (yeah I know, a bit dated)
-Teams winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals have won the Cup 50 of 64 times (78 percent).
-Teams winning Game 3 after splitting the first two games have won the Cup 21 of 24 times (88 percent).
-Teams winning Game 5 after splitting the first four games have won the Cup 13 of 17 times (76 percent).
-Teams holding a 3-2 series lead have won the Cup 23 of 28 times.
From this very detailed site (http://www.whowins.com/tables/up32.html) also slightly dated (stats as of 2008).
Taking the major sports and compiling the numbers, the team that has a 3-2 lead in the series, comes out with a series win about 80.3% of the time, 85.3% if they have home ice advantage. The team that takes the 3-2 lead into game 6 has a winning record both on the road and at home.
I don't know if the percentages work out the same in Junior-A hockey, but I would imagine they at least close. While the first couple of numbers will make Ice Wolves fans smile, the numbers we really care about are the Game 5 winning stat along with the 3-2 leads. It really makes sense, whoever wins that fifth game has the two chances to win the series as opposed to the team down 3-2, who has to win twice to pull it off.
Now that the cold calculations have sufficiently primed you for just how important this game is, shall we continue? Right then, on we go.
After their very clutch, Game 4 win, I would put momentum in the Terriers corner. If you've listened to interviews with Bob Beatty, he isn't big on game to game momentum, so does it have an effect on the game? There are varying opinions on the whole momentum thing, and I lean to it having an effect game to game, but not near to the degree of in game momentum.
The first four games of this series have been characterized by the mistakes of either team. Theoretically in hockey, most goals come because someone makes a mistake in coverage or with the puck, something like that. It comes down to how you recover, and both teams have been forced to recover far more than I'm sure either coach would like. In the first four games, the Terriers have been fighting off mistakes and giveaways in their own end with near-regularity. If the Ice Wolves had been able to capitalize on the chances that came their way, this series wouldn't be tied right now. Part of that credit goes to Devin Peters, some of it goes to the Terriers defence and a few go to posts and missed nets. While the Ice Wolves errors have been slightly less frequent, the Terriers are capitalizing. Whether it's a rebound, missed coverage on a rebound, careless giveaways... the list goes on, the Terriers have been there to capitalize.
Good example was the OT winner from Game 4. The Terriers were on a roll, holding the puck in the Wolves end for about 90% of the two minutes. Puck goes behind the net, and everyone heads back there. Nobody stays in front to cover Jeremy Boyer, who rips home the game winner. Mental lapses are going to make the final two or three games very difficult for La Ronge. Obviously you're not going to eliminate EVERY mistake, but there are glaring errors both coaches would like to see repaired as we get towards the elimination games.
On the topic of what both coaches would like to see, I think they'll be expecting a little more from their goaltenders. While they played well in Yorkton, neither was really the reason his team won. Both made some very good saves, but we didn't see any show-stoppers from either Devin Peters or Adam Bartko. If either goalie returns to the form we've seen at points during the playoffs, that could be your deciding factor.
I'm sure the Terriers got a real taste of playoff pressure in Game 4. If they didn't win that game, the outlook would be pretty darn bleak. Yorkton responded well to that fact, and very well in overtime. Now the pressure sits equally on both to grab the advantage in the remaining games. Neither team wants to face what the loser of tonight's game will run into. It will be the first time either of these teams have faced an elimination game this post season. Heck, for the Ice Wolves, it's the first elimination game in the SJHL playoffs in the last two years (eliminated in Anavet Cup). Expect both teams to approach tonight's contest like a game seven.
The Ice Wolves' powerplay finally found the back of the net in Game 4 and actually double dipped. It will be huge for La Ronge if they can get the man advantage working, because they've enjoyed a decided advantage in the powerplays category. The Wolves penalty kill has been fantastic, only allowing one powerplay marker in the series. The Wolves have been pretty disciplined as well, which certainly helps the cause. Personally, I'm at a loss to explain why the Terriers can't buy a powerplay goal. Everything seems to be working, they get chances on most man advantages, but there just seems to be an invisible force-field in front of the net. Hasn't hampered them too much though, as they've been very good 5-on-5.
Players to Watch
Dayton Fossum (D) - If you want the perfect example of a leader doing everything within his power to get his team a win, look no further. Fossum brings it, every night. With Phil Belanger out, and with just how well he's playing, Fossum's ice time has increased, with good results. He doesn't have a goal in the series yet, but in Game 5 last year, it was an Ice Wolves defenceman that scored three times en route to the win.
Marc-Andre Carre (F) - After playing a fantastic Game 3, Carre followed it up with a decent performance in Game 4. He broke the Terriers' 43 penalties killed streak in the first period, and added another couple of chances. The Wolves need MAC to be the MVP for the next two games (if not three).
Rhyse Dieno (F) - The chances are abounding for the top rookie scorer in the playoffs (4 G, 6 A), but Dieno finds himself a little snake-bitten. While he's been frustrated, he continues to improve. If he can bury a couple of those chances, the Ice Wolves will find themselves in favourable standing.
Jeremy Boyer (F) - It took until Game 4 for Boyer to register his first points of the series. That said, his two goals came at the perfect time. Will those goals get him on a roll? If so, Yorkton's offence will be locked and loaded.
Justin Buzzeo (F) - He's quietly racked up four points in the series, all assists. Two in Game 4 helped the Terriers along to the victory. The Terriers need more from him if their offence is truly going to get rolling. He's been under a lot of physical pressure in the series and it's not going to go away, can he rise past it?
Keon Vick (F/D) - While not one of the superstars featured in the Terriers lineup, he was an important part of it in Game 4. Vick made the move up to forward, presumably to give Yorkton more grit and size up front. The move worked and he had a very solid game. Where will he play in Game 5?
It's a night off for me. No play-by-play or interviews to do during the game, so I will be taking my customary place in the broadcast booth to watch, while making trips up to the Wolves Den to chat with fans during the intermissions. I'm sure there will be a good many nervous Ice Wolves fans along with fewer, but just as tense Terriers fans at the Mel tonight.
These are two very good, very evenly matched teams. There isn't a lot separating them, hence the emphasis on the mistakes in this post. It creates a conundrum for me, and a headache because I can sit here humming and hawwing over what's going to happen, what needs to happen, all that good stuff, but these teams are very difficult to predict. They've shown the capacity to dominate the other, go away for a period or two, dazzle with skill or try to do too much.
At this point, they just need to play the games, and let the bounces fall where they will and see who gets the better of who tonight. Will we continue to alternate wins (good news for the Ice Wolves) or will the Terriers be the first team to win back-to-back games?
One thing's for sure, it should be fun to watch.