Game four, as it is so often, was the pivot point of this series. I love Game 4's, you can go up 3-1, have the series tied 2-2, you can sweep, you can stay alive. There's so much at stake in game 4 in every series. Every game in the playoffs is huge, but Game 4 is pretty much a must win no matter what series you're in. The Ice Wolves were able to, just barely, get that all important 4-3 win in the fourth Game.
In the first period, the Bombers looked like they were ready to do just what they needed to, get fully back into this series. They led 1-0 after one, and had outplayed the Ice Wolves in my opinion, despite being out shot.
The second period, however, would hold different fortunes for both teams.
The Ice Wolves momentum got started, as it so often does, with the fourth (Billet) line. The young guys, Smerek, Hladun and Boyer were doing their banging and crashing thing when Boyer lanced a pass over to Hladun in the slot. He waited out Musico and got the Ice Wolves on the board.
It would start a four goal run by the visitors featuring a 2-on-0 break for Logan Herauf and Nolan Souchotte, and a couple of loose pucks in the slot for Carre and Eggum. The Ice Wolves recaptured their dominance from games one and two and used it to open up a reasonably safe lead heading for home.
Emphasis on reasonably, because the Bombers played their best hockey of the series in period number three. A powerplay goal from Andrew Johnston and an even strength marker from Corey Tyrell (which looked very similar to the Ice Wolves' first goal, nice pass from Mychan off the boards) got the Bombers well within striking distance. They would have a couple of chances to even up the game, but couldn't get it done leading into the last minute and a half of the game.
Then we got our nightly controversy from the series. Always seems like there's something in this one. Travis Eggum grabbed the puck to the side of Musico and walked out in front. He had half the net to shoot at to ice the game. Deven Stillar got his stick out in front of him and hooked up Eggum ever so slightly, enough to loosen the puck. Here's my dish on the call. Based on how the game was called earlier in the game, penalty. Based on how it was called in the last 10 minutes, not a penalty. I found this to be an oddly called game, with lots getting called for 50 minutes then nothing for 8.5 minutes, and there were deserving plays during that time.
That final call wrapped up the game with a nice little bow for the Ice Wolves who just played, "Bomber in the Middle" for the next minute and a half. Easy to do when you have an extra guy on the ice. All-in-all, a fun game to watch, probably left a sour taste in the mouths of the Bombers and their fans, who I'm guessing would much rather have just run out of time, without getting a chance, than having it happen down a man.
It sets up the must win, Game 5 back in La Ronge for Flin Flon, and I know the Ice Wolves don't want to go back to the Whitney Forum. I loved the start up to the game with the lights down and the smoke machines running. I have to hand it to the folks running those games, the music is fantastic, the start up is great and they know how to make a great hockey atmosphere for the fans and players. Love it. However, the Ice Wolves will be very intent on avoiding that great atmosphere with a win on Friday.
1. Logan Herauf - LR - 3A - Herauf was a machine in the second period with three assists, being a direct influence on two of the goals off a nice passing play on the break with Souchotte and powering out in front to create Eggum's goal. He's now tied for second in the playoffs with seven assists, and his seven points lead the Wolves and are tied for sixth in the league.
2. Andrew Johnston - FF - 1 G, 1 A - Every time I watch this guy, I am more impressed. Speed, strength and a great shot make Johnston the total goal scoring package. He has five so far in the playoffs and has been a definite thorn in the side of the Ice Wolves.
3. Travis Eggum - LR - 1 G, 1 A - Though he only has two goals in the first four games of the playoffs, Eggum has still been dangerous. His drive in front of the net in the final minute and a half essentially ended the game for the Bombers when that penalty was called and his leadership off the ice is becoming more and more prevalent.
Something that is becoming clear with the Ice Wolves is how hurt they are. At this point, they have five regulars out of the lineup with injuries. Taylor Pillar (F), Doug Lindensmith (F), Steven Cook (D), Phil Cliche (F) and Alex Vandenameele (D). The young guys (Franklin Cook (D) and Jared Iron (F)) are filling in nicely, but it looks like the Wolves are starting to feel the effects to the overall lineup.
New chemistry has to be formed, strategies need to be rethought and it's starting to catch up with them. It's a big reason why La Ronge wants to end this series Friday. To heal the bumps and bruises sustained by the guys in the lineup and to get the guys coming back into the framework some time to skate and get back into the groove. Word is two or three will be available this weekend or early next week if the series lengthens.
As I've been saying, Game 5 goes Friday night at the Mel. I hope to see lots of Ice Wolves fans out along with a bus load of Bomber fans. There was a pretty loud contingent of La Ronge fans at the game on Wednesday and it sure helped the Wolves. It always helps the atmosphere when you've got fans competing to be heard.
I'll have a tee-up for Friday's game tomorrow morning. Looking forward to it!