The Saginaw Spirit (3-1) are just one win away from the first ever Ontario Hockey League western conference championship in franchise history following an impressive 4-1 victory over the Guelph Storm (1-3) in game-4, taking a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead in this (best of seven) series in front of 4,698 at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, ON tonight.
Spirit head coach Chris Lazary sounded very happy with how his players turned up the group effort tonight, blanketing Guelph in the defensive zone to limit quality shots, while also winning the time and space battles all over the ice and making the most of the offensive opportunities.
“Tonight, we played a really good team game,” Lazary said. “I thought we did a good job staying on top of their players and creating puck pressure all over the ice, and then we were opportunistic when we did get scoring chances.”
Spirit rookie goal tender Tristan Lennox continues to perform like a seasoned vet, picking up his second career playoff win (first complete game playoff win) while turning away an impressive 36 of the 37 shots he would face in between the pipes for Saginaw.
The Spirit jumped out to an early lead in the first frame when Saginaw defenseman Reagan O'Grady (3) beat Guelph goal tender Anthony Popovich with an assist coming from Damien Giroux for a 1-0 Saginaw lead at 4:38 of the opening period.
Saginaw would add to its lead in the middle frame when Owen Tippett (11) scored with a monster blast from just outside the top of the right circle with assists from O'Grady and Brady Gilmour, giving the Spirit a 2-0 lead at 7:50 of the second period, which was followed by a Guelph penalty, as Spirit rookie Cole Perfetti (7) made the Storm pay on the man-advantage, scoring a power play goal assisted by Albert Michnac and Tippett at the 15:05 mark to send the Spirit into the second intermission controlling a 3-0 lead through forty minutes of action.
Guelph would finally get on the board after a Spirit penalty early in the final frame when Dmiti Samorukov (5) scored a power play goal with a booming shot from the point to cut the Spirit lead to 3-1 at 4:45 of the third period, however, it would not take Saginaw long to regain the three goal lead, as Perfetti (8) found the back of the net with his second tally of the night for a 4-1 Spirit lead at 11:48 of the third.
The Spirit will now return home with a chance to secure its first ever OHL championship series appearance in organization history, hosting the Storm for game-5 with a 7:05 pm puck drop back at the friendly confines of the Dow Event Center on Friday night.
“It's all about getting better and making adjustments,” Lazary said when asked what it will take to close out Guelph on Friday.
“These guys are legit, (Guelph) is a legit team and we know that,” Lazary concluded. “They just came back from (being down) 3-nothing and won a series. This is long from over, there's no celebration in our room, it's (all about) rest, recovery, adjustments, and finding ways to get better every day; that's our program and we know we're going to have our hands full moving forward.”
If the Spirit manage to advance to the OHL finals, they would meet the Ottawa 67's, who eliminated the Oshawa Generals with a (4 games to none) series sweep following an exciting 2-1 overtime victory when former Spirit forward Tye Felhaber scored with 34-seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 1-goal apiece, forcing overtime, where Felhaber then scored the OT game winner to send Ottawa into the finals.