Sault Ste. Marie, ON:
The Saginaw Spirit (29-29-8-0) have dropped 9 of its last 11 games (including 3-straight losses) following an 8-1 thrashing by the Soo Greyhounds (54-7-2-3) in front of 4,234 at the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, ON last night.
The Greyhounds jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead after Hayden Verbeek (29) scored on the first shot of the game at 1:19 of the first period, followed by a power play goal from Taylor Raddysh (32) at the 3:59 mark and a late goal by Boris Katchouk (42) at 19:14 of the opening period.
Following a scoreless second period, Soo forward Jack Kopacka (29) scored a power play goal to give the Greyhounds a 4-0 lead at 8:52 of the third period.
Desperately searching for some kind of offense, Spirit head coach Troy Smith pulled Saginaw goal tender Evan Cormier (for a 6 on 4 man-advantage) following a Soo penalty at 9:03 of the third period, however, Greyhounds' forward Morgan Frost gained possession of the puck and scored an empty-net shorthanded goal for a 5-0 Soo lead at 9:12 of the third period.
Just 77-seconds later, with the Spirit still on the power play, Soo defenseman Jordan Sambrook (10) scored another shorthanded goal for a 6-0 Soo lead at 10:29 of the final period.
The Spirit would finally get on the board when rookie forward Ryan Stepien (10) cut into the Soo lead (6-1) with his tenth goal of the season from Reilly Webb and Keaton Middleton at 12:48 of the third period.
Just 43-seconds following the Stepien goal, Soo defenseman Conor Timmins (8) extended the Soo lead to 7-1 at 13:31 of the third, before Kopacka (30) rounded out the scoring, making it an 8-1 game at 14:49 of the final period.
Cormier stopped 31 of the 38 shots he saw in net for the Spirit, while his counterpart Tyler Johnson turned away 21 of the 22 shots he faced in between the pipes for the Greyhounds.
With just 2 regular season games left, the Spirit (66-points in the western conference standings) have now dropped to the No. 8 playoff spot and would face this very good Soo team in the first round of the 2018 OHL playoffs if the season ended today, making the next two games all the more important for this young Saginaw team.
The Spirit will host the fourth place London Knights (38-23-2-2) for the final home game of the year on St. Patricks Day for a 7:05 pm face off at the Dow Event Center Saturday night, before wrapping up the regular season with a crucial road game against the 7th place Windsor Spitfires (who are tied with Saginaw with 66-points in the western conference standings) at 2:05 pm at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, ON Sunday afternoon.
If the Spirit manage to win its final two games and the Guelph Storm lose one of its final two games (Kitchener and Erie) the Spirit would jump into the No. 6 playoff spot (the most ideal first round matchup) where they would likely face the Sarnia Sting in the opening round of the OHL playoffs.
On a positive note, Spirit forward Brady Gilmour, who has been out since Jan. 19, after sustaining an elbow injury on a dirty hit against the Sudbury Wolves, made the trip to the Soo last night, although he did not dress.
In the 23 games without Gilmour (who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 NHL draft) the Spirit have only won 6-games, while losing 17-games in that time frame. Gilmour would add some much needed offense, while balancing out the lines.
The Spirit have not indicated whether Gilmour will return before the playoffs or not.
Saginaw Spirit vs Soo Greyhounds highlights from Mar. 14, 2018: