The Saginaw Spirit (3-2) had a difficult time finding any quality shots on goal in a 4-0 shutout loss to the Guelph Storm (2-3) in game-5 of the Ontario Hockey League western conference finals in front of a record sellout crowd of 5,627 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw Friday night.
Spirit head coach Chris Lazary admits that his team has had trouble closing out teams in the playoffs this year, most notably with a lackluster effort last night, but he also understands his team still has a decided advantage, holding a 3-games-to-2 lead in this (best of seven) series and the York, ON native is confident his players will rise to the task on Sunday.
“Not our night,” Lazary admitted. “We've had chances this playoffs to close out games, and for whatever reason, when we play our first elimination game we just, we struggle. But then we find a way to regroup when we get back at it. We have a resilient group with tons of character in the room, there's zero panic; we know we've got be better and we're going to be better here in game six.”
Guelph defenseman Dmitri Samorukov (a first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2017 NHL draft) had an impressive night, notching a hat trick to account for three of the four Storm goals, while assisting on teammate Isaac Ratcliffe's goal for a 4-point night, an effort which was not lost on Guelph head coach George Burnett.
“Sammy (Samorukov) has had a tremendous year,” Burnett said. “He's among the best in the league, I think his defensive game has been very strong and his offensive game in the second half of the season has really been some of the best that I've seen from him for sure. He's been poised and patient, and seems to be tireless. We need to keep him strong, I thought one of the keys for us tonight was our shift length; which was much better in the early going. I think it allowed us to have some better energy as the game went along, but Sammy gave us a big lift, I don't know if I want to see him down around the net as much as he was, but to see him finish with the goals he scored tonight it was good.”
The Storm managed to put a stranglehold on the Saginaw offense, especially in the final two periods of play, limiting Saginaw to just 8-combined low-quality shots on goal throughout the final 40-minutes, however, a continued bright spot for Lazary and his team has been the brilliant play of rookie goal tender Tristan Lennox, who was forced into action late in game-2 following the (eventual) 5-game suspension to Arizona Coyote's prospect Ivan Prosvetov.
“Lenny (Tristan Lennox) is just a nasty goalie,” Lazary said of his rookie netminder. “He's a talent and we've said it before, he's a hidden gem in this league. He just happens to back up Ivan Prosvetov, who's another elite goalie. The thing I love about Lenny is; it's 4-nothing and he's in there and he's just grinding and he's battling. But you know what, our guys owe him a big performance here in game-6 and he's gonna get it, our group is gonna be good in game six.”
Following a tough loss to Guelph back in game-3, Lazary studied game film and recognized a way to exploit the Guelph system, responding with a brilliant strategy to shut down the Storm in the fourth game of this series, but Burnett, who is also a phenomenal game-planner, came back with some great adjustments last night; so Lazary is now counting on another strong film session where he can find a way to close out the Storm in this chess match between two great hockey minds.
“I won't tip my hand but it's a cat-and-mouse game; it's all about adjustments,” Lazary noted. “If you ask any coach that's been in a series -and George (Burnett) is an elite coach- he's been around a long long time and knows what he's doing. But, we'll sit here as a staff, we're going to look at the tape and we'll walk through it with our players. There's probably little things we can do without question better; whether it's tweaks, or the way we want to play and we've got to be on our toes more. I just thought we started okay, then we got away from being on our toes and getting down on pucks and wanting to play aggressive and closing (gaps). You look at the Samorukov goal, we have guys backing toward our net instead of trying to close with a good stick.”
Lazary knows his team still has the advantage and he's already put this game behind him and looking forward to closing out the series in game-6, where a 2 pm face off is scheduled at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, ON tomorrow afternoon.
“It was just an off night,” Lazary concluded. “We put ourselves in a position (going) up 3-1 to be able to have that kind of a night and our group knows that, we've been through that before in both series' here and we're going to be fine moving forward.”