The Saginaw Spirit (1-0) battled back from a 2-goal deficit after 20-minutes of play, before responding with a 3-goal outburst in the first 3:12 of the second frame en route to the organization's first post-season win since 2014 following a 6-3 victory over the Sarnia Sting (0-1) to take a 1-0 series lead in the opening round of the 2019 Ontario Hockey League western conference playoffs in front of 3,416 at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw, MI on Thursday night.
Sarnia forward Hugo Leufvenius (2) took advantage of a flat Saginaw squad early in the game, scoring two first period goals (the first at 4:41 and the second at 19:56) to give the Sting a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but Spirit head coach Chris Lazary would not panic, trusting the veteran leaders to address the team during the break.
“The first (period) wasn't great, I think everyone knows that, but the last 40 (minutes) was good,” Lazary said. “You don't win a game in twenty minutes, you don't lose a game in twenty minutes; the biggest thing for us is we got out of the first after being terrible and we were only down 2-0, so that was a grind in itself. But, we know we have a good team, we know we can score and I knew, I just knew those guys were going to go in (the dressing room) sort it out, come back and have a great period. And once we had the lead we knew we weren't losing.”
The Spirit came out of the first intermission supercharged, shifting momentum inside the Dow like a tsunami with a three-goal scoring barrage, kicked off by Blade Jenkins (1) who put Saginaw on the board, scoring his first of the playoffs from Brady Gilmour and Bode Wilde at 1:10 of the second period, which was followed by Spirit rookie Ethan Cardwell (1) scoring his first career playoff goal with assists coming from Cole Perfetti and Justin Murray just over a minute later at the 2:57 mark, before Saginaw sniper Owen Tippett (1) scored to give the Spirit a 3-2 lead on a feed from Ryan McLeod and Gilmour just 15-seconds later at 3:12 of the second period.
Saginaw extended its lead early in the final frame when Perfetti (1) scored a power play goal with assists from McLeod and Tippett for a 4-2 lead at 6:11 of the third period, however, Sarnia would respond just 22-seconds later when Nick Grima scored to make it a 4-3 game at 6:33 of the third period.
The Spirit managed to put the game away midway through the third when Wilde (1) scored on a feed from Camaryn Baber for a 5-3 lead at 12:58 of the third period, before Tippett (2) sealed the deal with an unassisted empty-net goal for a 6-3 lead at the 18:38 mark.
Saginaw goal tender Ivan Prosvetov was impressive in his first OHL playoff game, stopping 34 of the 37 shots he saw in net, while standing on his head throughout the first period to keep his team in the game.
The Spirit will look to build a 2-games-to-none lead when the Sting make a return visit for game two of this first round western conference playoff series right back at the Dow at 7:05 pm on Saturday night.
Video of Spirit forward Owen Tippett (47) celebrating his second goal of the night in the opening round of the OHL playoffs Thursday night against the Sarnia Sting: