The Saginaw Spirit (2-0) have taken a 2-games-to-none lead in the Ontario Hockey League western conference finals (best of seven) series after Ryan McLeod scored a heroic game-winning goal in overtime to give the Spirit a 4-3 OT victory over the Guelph Storm (0-2) in front of a standing room only crowd of 5,606 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw Saturday night.
McLeod (5) who is a second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2018 NHL draft, stole the puck in the neutral zone and slipped around a Guelph defender, before breaking free and beating Storm goal tender Anthony Popovich on the stick-side at 6:42 of the overtime session.
“I kinda just saw a lane up the middle so I took it,” McLeod said. “(the defenseman) came up on me, so I chipped the puck through his legs and, luckily, got by him and I got a breakaway then I put it under his blocker.”
The Spirit had been protecting a 2-1 lead late in the third period when Saginaw defenseman Justin Murray was whistled for a 5-minute major and ultimately ejected for a check-to-the-head penalty, which led to a power play goal by Guelph forward Isaac Ratcliffe (7) which was reviewed and eventually ruled a good goal, tying the game at 2-goals apiece at 13:26 of the third period, while Guelph defenseman Markus Phillips followed with another power play goal just 34-seconds later to give the Storm a 3-2 lead at the 14:00 minute mark of the third period.
Spirit goal tender Ivan Prosvetov batted the puck after the play, and the puck inadvertently went over the glass and into the crowd, resulting in an immediate ejection from the game, adding to the craziness for Saginaw head coach Chris Lazary, who was forced to bring in 16-year old rookie backup goal tender Tristan Lennox to try and win the game in the final six minutes of regulation.
With just under 2-minutes left in regulation, Ratcliffe, the Storm captain, was whistled for a 2-minute roughing minor, giving the Spirit a man-advantage, while prompting Lazary to pull Lennox for the extra attacker around the 18-minute mark of the final frame for a 6-on-4-man-advantage, as New York Islanders second round pick in the 2018 NHL draft, Bode Wilde (7) scored one of the biggest goals in Saginaw Spirit history when he took a feed from Florida Panthers first round pick Owen Tippett, then let a shot go from just inside the blue line, scoring the power play goal to tie the game at 3-goals apiece and force overtime at 18:43 of the third period.
“That goal starts when Tipp's (Owen Tippett) makes a big play,” Lazaray said. “He takes a nice step around a defender who's going down, so he reads shot block and changes his angle. Then, we were in full on attack mode. He takes a shot, it comes right out and we make a slip pass right over to Bode and he let's it go. I thought we did a good job of having screens around the net, and you have to get a little lucky at the same time, but it seemed like there were twenty guys in front of the net and it just found its way in.”
After a scoreless opening frame, Saginaw had taken a 1-0 lead when captain Damien Giroux (7) scored his seventh of the playoffs from Tippett and McLeod at the 4:00 minute mark of the second period, but the Storm would respond a few minutes later when Nick Suzuki (11) tied the game at 1-goal apiece at 6:54 of the second period.
Spirit rookie Cole Perfetti (6) would give Saginaw a 2-1 lead later in the period, scoring his sixth of the playoffs from Brady Gilmour at 15:08 of the second period.
“They're a phenomenal team and they're a dangerous team,” Lazary said of the Storm. “You're like six or seven minutes away, with a 1-goal lead, from winning and getting yourself up (2-games-to-none in the series) then craziness sets in, but, you know what, we won a big game, we're up two-nothing, it's huge. Their rink is a tough rink to play in, it plays fast -obviously you don't have last change- it's going to be rocking. So, getting up two-nothing right now is big for us, our guys are excited. I truly believe we're going to ride that wave going into Guelph.”
Meanwhile, the Spirit will have to wait for a ruling from the league to see whether Prosvetov, arguably the best goal tender in the OHL this post season, will suffer a suspension for batting the puck after the whistle. The league is very stringent when it comes to players intentionally shooting the puck into the crowd, because someone could get seriously injured, however, Lazary noted that his goal tender was possibly clearing the puck and there was no intention for the puck to leave the playing surface.
“People think (Ivan) batting the puck out was him losing his cool, that's how he clears the puck,” Lazary said. “We have clips of that earlier in the year when he's killing a penalty. If he makes a stop and the whistle doesn't go right away, he'll bat that puck down the ice for a clearing and try to take advantage of it, but it just went out of play. It's not intentional on his part, it was a clear and he's done it several times this season.”
Saginaw will now head to Guelph for game-3 and a 7 pm face off against the Storm at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, ON on Monday night.
Video of Spirit goal tender Ivan Prosvetov congratulating his teammates after forcing OT against the Guelph Storm Saturday night: