That's what we're down to now. With the split in La Ronge, the Bauer Conference Final is now cut down to a Best of Five series in which the Mustangs hold home ice advantage. With that in mind, the Ice Wolves would love nothing more than to repay Melfort the favour of taking the first of the back to back games to earn at least a split and the opportunity to go up 3-1.
Before anyone (myself included) gets to the delusions of grandeur of either team jumping out to a 3-1 lead in Melfort, we need to focus on the first contest.
Read on for my preview of Game 3 of the Bauer Conference Final.
The Ice Wolves earned a definitive statement win in Game 2 of the series. In fact, it doesn't get much more definitive than a 4-0 win. Though the Ice Wolves allowed the second-least number of goals in the regular season, they had only earned one shutout. The blue-line had a chip on its shoulder after the disaster that was the Ice Wolves in their own end in Game 1. They seemed much more focused on simple plays to just get the puck out of their own end. The Wolves also made adjustments to handle the aggressive Mustang forecheck and it helped big time.
Now, as the series shifts to a full sized sheet, who can make the adjustment faster? Obvious money is on the Mustangs as they call the Palace home while the Ice Wolves got their practice in on the smaller ice at the Mel. If you thought it was easy for Cody Hanson to sneak behind the D at the Mel, wait until he has more space to do it. In that same vein, if you thought Marc-Andre Carre was dangerous at the Mel... well, you get the idea. If you don't get it, Carre put up 3 goals and 4 assists in only three games at the Palace in the regular season with all three contests featuring multi-point nights from the league MVP.
The Ice Wolves featured the best road record in the SJHL this season at 23 and six. They had more wins on the road than two teams in the SJHL and one less than another. With only two games under their belts, its tough to tell if the Ice Wolves road dominance will continue in the playoffs. After two games in Melfort, we may have an answer.
The Mustangs suffered a step back in Game 2. After playing a very strong road game and picking apart the Wolves in their own end before surviving a late push and getting the win in overtime, the 'Stangs didn't have the same intensity the following night. Maybe it was a comfort from knowing they would at least earn a split or maybe they got too relaxed after spending the day at Elk Ridge Resort, I don't know. The intensity definitely sat with the Ice Wolves in Game 2 and it seems that extra intangible may be the defining factor in this series.
The goaltending battle in La Ronge didn't go as many suspected. While Charles Corsi was solid, he wasn't dominant. Adam Bartko, on the other hand, was stellar in Game 1 and was dominant in Game 2. In the opener of the series, Bartko was forced to make fantastic saves to keep the Wolves in the game. In Game 2, he wasn't challenged as forcefully, but his spectacular save in the latter stages of period one was a pivotal moment of the contest.
On the injury outlook for the Mustangs. After suffering a concussion on Saturday, it is doubtful Adam Wihak will return to the lineup any time soon. Brett Kipling also went down on the weekend, and the way he wrenched his knee, I can't imagine him playing. That said, I don't have confirmation on his situation. Mitch Berg drew out of the lineup on Saturday for reasons I do not know. Based on the fact he was a late decision, I imagine he'll be ready to go for Game 3, but that isn't confirmed.
For the Ice Wolves, Justin Ducharme will likely make his return to the lineup, which is good news for the Ice Wolves. It gets them back to two full top lines and every time Ducharme has missed action, he scores two goals upon returning. Doug Lindensmith is a day-by-day situation so he will likely be a gameday, maybe even gametime decision. Michael Verret is available for the Ice Wolves, so it creates the question of, "Which defenceman sits?". Taylor Piller and Alex Vandenameele will once again watch from the stands as they heal up.
Players to Watch
Travis Eggum (F) - After not really factoring in the goal column of the high scoring affairs against the Bombers, Eggum had the touch back in the first two games of the series. He scored four times on the weekend and he'll be a big part of the Ice Wolves' efforts on the road.
Marc-Andre Carre (F) - Heading into a building where he was successful in the regular season, Carre always looks better on big ice. He looked frustrated at times on the weekend without the space he wanted to make things happen. Look for him to take out that frustration this week with more room to work.
Dayton Fossum (D) - He had the best effort of any Ice Wolves' skater over two games. His intensity level is through the roof while remaining disciplined. Fossum wants to win, and he's doing everything within his ability to make sure the Wolves come away victorious.
Charles Corsi (G) - Overriding opinion coming into this series was for the Mustangs to win, Corsi needed to win the goaltending battle, and he should win it. Through two games, it hasn't been the case. Adam Bartko has stolen the show, and it's Corsi's turn to respond. Look for the Mustang netminder to put up his best effort of the series in Game 3.
Brody Haygarth (F) - The best Mustang through two games. Haygarth got the OT winner in Game 1 and he was dangerous all through Game 2. His speed makes him a tough guy to stop down the wing, even for a great skater like Dayton Fossum. Look for him to be a big part of it if the Mustangs take tonight's contest.
Brayden Metz (F) - While he's getting opportunities, Metz hasn't factored into the point column yet. With all the expectations that come along with being a major deadline acquisition, Metz was a major factor against Humboldt. Through two games, he hasn't been there when the Mustangs needed him. He'll likely break out of it in one of the next two games.
Tonight's broadcast from the Northern Lights Palace in Melfort goes at 7:15 starting with the pre-game show. The puck drops on Game 3 at 7:30, and I'll be joined by Leonard Strandberg on colour commentary.
Who will take game one of this now Best of Five series? Should be a fun game to call and listen to.
Post Script: There are some solid suggestions on the "Nickname Curtis Contest", but I think there are still some good names out there. If you have a nickname you would like bestowed upon Mr. Skalicky, head over to the previous post and enter your idea! I'll likely stop taking sugg