Coming into the playoffs, Saginaw Spirit head coach Chris Lazary stressed the importance of winning the special team's battles and his team apparently got that message loud and clear, killing all seven penalties, while converting fifty percent (1 for 2) on power play chances to win game-1 of the Ontario Hockey League western conference semi finals (best of seven) series with a 4-1 victory over the Soo Greyhounds in front of 5,408 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw tonight.
“We knew going into this series one of main keys was to win the special teams (battle) every night,” Lazary said. “Both power plays are obviously lethal, both penalty kills are pretty much identical; you look at the numbers, regular season and in the playoffs, they're pretty much identical outside of the penalty kill. So, we knew (special teams) were going to be a big focus for us, we've done a ton of video and we're going to have to continue to do a ton of video, but, at the end of the day the guys are executing and making some big time plays.”
After a scoreless first period, Saginaw sniper Owen Tippett (5) scored his team leading fifth goal of the playoffs on a feed from defenseman Reagan O'Grady for a 1-0 Spirit lead at 1:34 of the second period, but the Greyhounds answered toward the end of the middle frame when Soo forward Jaden Peca (1) found the back of the net to tie the game at 1-goal apiece at 16:48 of the second period.
The Spirit would capitalize on one of just two power play opportunities midway through the final frame when defenseman Bode Wilde (3) roofed a wrist shot past the glove shoulder of Soo goal tender Matthew Villalta for a power play goal with assists from Tippett and Cole Perfetti for a 2-1 Saginaw lead at 8:21 of the third period, before Tippett (6) added an empty net goal with assists coming from Detroit Red Wing prospects Reilly Webb and Brady Gilmour for a 3-1 lead at the 17:54 mark, followed by another empty net goal from Saginaw captain Damien Giroux (5) just 1:06 later with an assist from D.J. Busdeker to give the Spirit a 4-1 lead at the 19-minute mark of the final period.
Spirit goal tender Ivan Prosvetov was brilliant once again between the pipes for Saginaw, stopping 34 of the 35 shots he would face in between the pipes tonight, while his counterpart, Villalta, was equally impressive, turning away 32 of the 33 shots he saw in net for the Soo.
“To win, period, you need to have goal tending,” Lazary added. “I think Villalta was good tonight too, so it was a goal tending battle. If you don't have great goal tending, or if you're making a lot of goal tending changes this time of year, you're probably not playing right now, so (Spirit GM) Dave Drinkill did a phenomenal job, he saw something in Ivan when he went down to watch him multiple times in his playoff run last year (leading the Youngstown Phantoms to the USHL finals) and he just saw that Ivan had 'IT' and especially in big moments. And he was right, he's been phenomenal and if we're going to do anything he's got to keep playing the way he's been playing.”
Both teams will get a day to recover before going at it again in game-2 with a 5:30 pm face off right back here at the Dow on Sunday afternoon.
Video of Spirit players leaving the ice after 4-1 playoff win over the Soo at the Dow: