Finding a narrow opening in the top corner of the net, Lloydminster Bobcats forward Eric Benshadle placed a perfect shot over the shoulder of Whitecourt Wolverines net minder Tanner McCorriston and under the crossbar to clinch a 2-1 overtime victory in game one of the best-of-seven second round series in Whitecourt last night.
Just over five minutes into the overtime period, the Bobcats were able to hem the Wolverines in their zone, forcing an icing play and keeping a tired five players on the ice for Whitecourt. The home side called a time out to get an extra breather, but on the ensuing sequence Bobcats forward Zac Giroux battled his way from the corner towards the net, drawing a hooking penalty in the process.
Knowing the next goal would end the game, the Bobcats power play got right to work, as Alex Pernitsky sent a neat wrist shot from the blue line towards the front of the net that was deflected by forward Brett Smythe towards the side of the goal. Benshadle showed up and lifted a one-timer over McCorriston and in to give the Cats a series opening 2-1 victory.
As thrilling as the finish to overtime was, the third period may have been even more dramatic.
Having played over 57 minutes and directing 26 shots towards McCorriston, the Bobcats had yet to find the back of the net and were trailing the Wolverines 1—0 as the clock dwindled away. They were finally able to break through as defenceman Stefan Wood came crashing down the left-wing boards from the blue line, alertly directing a loose puck to the back door where Smythe was waiting to redirect the puck home. Benshadle, the eventual overtime hero, was a key component of the scoring play as well as he tied up a Wolverines defenceman while providing a screen in front of the goal.
For the Wolverines, the game looked to be more and more under control until it was pulled from their grip in the final minutes.
On the opening shift, it looked as if Whitecourt was about to take a 1-0 lead, as leading scorer Erik Pedersen deflected a puck towards the Bobcats net, but goaltender Alex Leclerc was able to get enough of it to keep it out. From that point forward, the two teams settled into a tightly contested, physical contest with scoring chances few and far between.
Both sides had a power play opportunity in the first period, but were unable to strike, heading into the first intermission scoreless with the Bobcats holding a 9-5 advantage in shots.
The middle frame was similar to the first, as both teams battled for opportunity, and the Wolverines began to control the course of play over the last half of the period. Despite working the puck in the Bobcats zone for an extended period, Whitecourt continued to search for their first goal.
Finally, forcing a turnover at the Bobcats blue line, Joseph Nardi drove deep into Lloydminster territory before dishing it out front to Ryan Grant, who beat Leclerc with a low shot to make it 1-0 in favour of the Wolverines. It was the first AJHL playoff goal for the 17 year-old defenceman, and his second point in four playoff games overall.
With the go-ahead goal, the Wolverines took a 1-0 lead into the second intermission, having outshot the Bobcats 9-8 in the second period, making the shot tally 17-14 for the Bobcats overall.
After the second period played out with no power play opportunities either way, the third was a little busier for both teams’ special teams units.
Whitecourt had two power play opportunities in the third, while the Bobcats had one, but neither team could strike on the man advantage, setting the stage for Smythe’s dramatic tying goal at even strength late in the third period to send the game to overtime.
Despite having one less power play in the third period, the Bobcats outshot the Wolverines 11-5 in the third period for a 60 minute tally of 28-19. Both teams had two shots in overtime, making the final count 30-21 for Lloydminster.
The Bobcats power play converted once on three opportunities (33.3%), while the Wolverines were blanked on three chances. Lloydminster’s penalty kill unit has now shut down 13 of 15 shorthanded situations in these playoffs, with the only two goals allowed in game three against Drayton Valley.
Notes: D Christian Lloyd (upper body, day-to-day) and C Troy Van Tetering (lower body, day-to-day) were both out of the lineup for the Bobcats to open round two, and neither are expected to return in game two…D Kellan Cornelis and F Linden Penner were both out for the Wolverines due to injury…Bobcats D Griffin Mumby (upper body) left the game in the second period, his status for game two is unknown…Bobcats G Alex Leclerc is now 4-0 in the playoffs, with a save percentage of 0.919 and a 2.04 GAA…Wolverines G Tanner McCorriston’s record fell to 3-1 in the 2016 playoffs, with a very respectable 0.925 save percentage and 1.71 GAA…Bobcats D Alex Pernitsky (1 goal, 4 assists) is the lone player in the series to have registered a point in every playoff game so far this year.
Game two goes tonight at 7:30 at the Scott Safety Centre in Whitecourt, and you can catch the call with pre-game beginning at 7:10PM on 95.9 Lloyd FM or www.959lloydfm.com. The pay per view feed will also be available at www.fasthockey.com.