By DAVE BORODY
Photo by Metcalfe Photography
The Saginaw Spirit defeated the Sarnia Sting 5-1 in Ontario Hockey League playoff action, Friday night in front of 3,214 fans at the RBC Centre.
It was the opening game in the best of seven Western Conference quarter-final series.
Game two goes Saturday night in Saginaw with game three back at the RBC Centre on Monday at 7:05 p.m.
Sarnia scored the only goal of period one before Saginaw scored four unanswered goals in the second period to take a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes. The Spirit scored their fifth goal two minutes into period three.
Brandon Saad led the Saginaw attack with a pair of goals.
“It’s a task containing him,” said Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu when asked about Saad, who had 34 goals in 44 games this year.
“I thought we contained his line pretty good with our checking line, but he stayed out there for a long shift early in the second period and ended up scoring.”
Saad’s second goal put the Spirit up 3-1. He knocked out the puck out of mid-air into the net. Referee Craig Spada immediately ruled no goal, but after a lengthy video review, changed his mind and allowed the goal to stand.
Beaulieu disagreed with the call.
“I watched it 10 times and to me it was a no goal. It was inconclusive in my mind. It changed the momentum of the game.”
The Sting had some great changes in the opening period. Alex Galchenyuk missed an open net with his own rebound while Ryan Spooner failed to connect on a breakaway.
Sarnia did strike first in the final minute of the period on the power play when Galchenyuk scored on a wrist shot form close range. It was his first goal of the season. Nail Yakupov and Brett Thompson drew assists.
But after the Sting failed to connect on a power play early in period two, the Spirit responded with four goals.
Saad tied the game at 5:32 with a nice deke in close to beat Sting goalie J.P. Anderson. Just over a minute later Carlos Amestoy scored what turned out to be the game-winner as he knocked in a puck that came off the backboards.
Saad increased the lead to 3-1 at 11:12 while Brandon Archibald scored on a power play at 19:44.
“That goal hurt,” said Beaulieu. “It looked as though our goalie was screened and we didn’t get in the right shooting lane. It was a rocket from up top.”
Any chance of a Sting comeback ended two minutes into the third period when Garrett Ross banged home a centering pass to put the Spirit ahead 5-1.
“It’s disappointing because we didn’t stick to our game plan,” said Sting captain Nathan Chiarlitti. “We turned the puck over and didn’t compete. We stopped competing in the second period, lost our checks and made some critical mistakes. They took advantage of their chances.”
Saginaw finished with a 33-27 edge in shots on goal with Jake Paterson getting the win while Anderson took the loss.
Beaulieu says he doesn’t mind game two in 24 hours.
“That’s the good thing about playoff hockey. We can watch some video, prep the kids and get on the bus and be ready for the game.”
His captain agreed.
“It’s almost a must-win for us. We got it handed to us in our own building and we have to respond in their rink.”
- Saad, a second round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks was first star, Amestoy, (goal and an assist) second star and Josh Shalla (two assists) third star.
- Each team had a power play goal.
- Justice Dundas and Jack Kuzmyk were healthy scratches for the Sting. It marked the first time this season Beaulieu has been able to ice a full lineup and actually sit out players.
- There were plenty of National Hockey League scouts in attendance, including Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with several of his staff.
- Ex-Sting Andy Delmore was also in attendance. Now 35 years-old, Delmore played in Italy this past season. He played with the Sting from 1994-97.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games home and away and also does features for the Sting Website.