Over the course of two minutes and 19 seconds, what looked like a probable win over the Sherwood Park Crusaders turned into the third consecutive loss for the Lloydminster Bobcats.
Leading 4-3 late in the third period after two consecutive goals from Zac Giroux and Taylor Allan, the Bobcats suffered a defensive breakdown allowing Crusaders defenceman Chase Torontow to skate down the left wing and in towards the goal before beating Alex Leclerc five hole to tie the game 4-4. The play was reminiscent of a goal scored one week ago by Logan Ganie of the Spruce Grove Saints to force overtime against the Bobcats. This time, the ‘Cats were unable to bounce back to salvage two points.
PHOTO: FIVEPENNY PHOTOS
In the opening minute of 3-on-3 overtime, Bobcats forward Nick Quillan was assessed a minor penalty after slashing the stick of Torontow who was about to catch a pass in front of the Bobcats goal. The play may very well have prevented a scoring chance, but on the ensuing power play the Crusaders were able to hit pay dirt. Riding a streak of 15 straight power play opportunities without a goal, the Crusaders broke the slump in style as Cameron Brezinski deflected a pass past Leclerc and in for his second goal of the game to end a two-game losing skid for his team and extend the Bobcats streak to three.
Despite a hot start for the ‘Cats in which they jumped out to a 6-0 edge in shots – thanks in large part to two unconverted power play opportunities – the Crusaders would draw first blood as Brezinski deflected a Joel Webb point shot past Leclerc for his first of two goals on the night. The first period would end with the Crusaders holding a 1-0 lead, but it wouldn’t take them long to add to it after the break.
Just 0:52 into the second period, Chris McKay found a lane to put the puck towards the net from the blue line, and teammate Ryan Kruper got a stick on it in front of the net to fool Leclerc and give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead. Shortly afterwards, Luke Kempf would be called for charging, giving the Bobcats their third power play opportunity of the night. Instead of taking advantage to get back into the game, the ‘Cats failed to convert and found themselves on the penalty kill for the first time of the night, already down by two.
However, Kevin Darrar put the pressure on the Crusaders power play, and ultimately forced an offensive zone 2-on-1 with teammate Zac Giroux. Giroux drew away the lone defender, giving Darrar room to walk out from the corner before beating Crusaders net minder Zac Dyment with a quick release over his glove hand to cut the lead to 2-1. For Darrar, the goal was long overdue after generating many chances over the last several games, finally breaking an 11-game goalless drought for the ‘Cats leading point producer. Minutes later, the Bobcats would get their fourth power play opportunity of the night.
With Chris McKay sitting in the box for elbowing, the ‘Cats executed their best power play in several games, as affiliated player Zane Franklin was able to help generate a number of scoring opportunities before Kris Spriggs finally found a rebound off of a Greg Moro point shot and put it past Dyment. The goal was Spriggs third since joining the Bobcats, and first since his second game on November 28th. With momentum on their side, the Bobcats looked to be heading into the third period with an even chance at winning, but couldn’t escape the period with a tie.
With just over three minutes to play in the second period, Crusaders captain Brett Magee snuck in from the blue line and recovered a loose puck on a scramble play in front of Leclerc’s crease, putting it over the sprawled out goaltender to make it 3-2 for the home team at the end of the second period.
Much like Saturday night in Whitecourt, the Bobcats came back more determined after falling behind for the second time in the game, and were rewarded four minutes into the third period as Quillan fed Darrar who drilled a one-timer that Dyment was unable to handle. The Crusaders net minder kept it out of the net, but the puck kicked out onto the stick of Zac Giroux who made no mistake in scoring his 12th goal of the campaign, extending his scoring streak to three games. The Airdrie native seems to have found his scoring touch of late, registering five goals in his last seven games after going scoreless over a ten-game stretch earlier in the season. From there, the Bobcats kept coming and gained their first lead of the game late in the third period.
Once again, it was Quillan initiating the play as he led a 2-on-1 rush all the way from the Bobcats zone into Crusaders territory along with Taylor Allan. Faking a slap shot, Quillan drew the defender toward himself before working the puck across to Allan, who beat Dyment upstairs to make it 4-3 for the Bobcats. Like Darrar, Allan’s goal tonight ended a lengthy slump, breaking a streak of eight consecutive games without a goal. On a night in which the Bobcats were finally finding answers for their scoring woes, they were derailed by the late defensive breakdown that led to the tying goal and ultimately to the overtime loss.
Coming in to support the shorthanded ‘Cats were four members of the Midget AAA Bobcats, as Jaxan Kaluski, Bryce Kindopp, Kobe Walker, and Franklin all dressed and played a regular shift against the Crusaders. Kaluski received a violent check on his first shift of the game, and would return for part of the period before leaving the game at the intermission. The other three played a significant role with the ‘Cats, who came into the game with three injured players and another pair away at the World Jr. A Challenge.
Late in the third period, defenceman Graydon Smith took a heavy hit along the boards in the defensive zone from Devon McAndrews and didn't return to the game.
Final shots on goal were 31-26 in favour of the Bobcats, but the Crusaders skated away with the extra point.
The shorthanded Bobcats will finish the 2015 portion of the schedule this weekend with a three-game swing beginning on Friday night through Olds, Canmore, and Calgary for a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Mustangs.