Ice face elimination after falling 4-2 to Thunderbirds
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It was about as close to a must-win game as it gets, and the Winnipeg Ice came up just short.
The Ice hoped history would repeat itself from the team’s second-round series against the Moose Jaw Warriors, which saw the Ice suffer consecutive losses, the worst coming in an 8-4 defeat in Game 3, before rattling off three-straight wins to clinch the series.
It appeared this series could follow the same script, with the club’s back against the wall and fresh off a 6-3 defeat a night earlier.
It wouldn’t fall their way this time. The Ice staged an admirable effort — controlling play at many points in the game — but fell 4-2 to the hosting Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 4 of the Western Hockey League championship on Wednesday.
The Thunderbirds lead the best-of-seven series 3-1. The Ice have now lost three-straight games after winning Game 1 in Winnipeg.
Kevin Korchinksi, Gracyn Sawchyn, Dylan Guenther and Nico Myatovic (empty netter) found the back of the net for the hosts on a night they outshot the Ice 37-33. Goaltender Thomas Milic stopped 31 shots to record his 30th career playoff win.
Carson Latimer and Evan Friesen scored for the Ice while goaltender Daniel Hauser staged a remarkable bounce-back performance after allowing six goals on 33 shots on Tuesday, stopping 33 of the 36 shots he faced.
“Bit of a heartbreaking loss,” said head coach James Patrick. “We played more like we have to play. The game was there, we had chances when it was 2-2 — even when they went ahead, we had chances but weren’t able to get the go-ahead (goal) or the tying goal.”
A push-and-pull first period saw the T-Birds pace the shot count 14-11, but the Ice out-chance the hosts. Matthew Savoie, alone, had three Grade-A opportunities but the game remained scoreless for the first 16 minutes on the strength of outstanding goaltending on both sides.
That was until Ice defenceman Graham Sward lofted what appeared to be a harmless clear into the neutral zone until the puck continued to roll inside the Thunderbirds’ zone. Out of the blue came Latimer, who looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, beating T-Birds blue liner Jeremy Hanzel to the puck and quickly roofing a shot over Milic’s shoulder to break the scoreless affair and tally his third goal of the series.
It looked like the Ice were going to escape the opening frame with the lead, but that ended with 16 seconds remaining when Korchinski left the Ice with a parting gift heading into the intermission, as he wired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that navigated a pair of bodies and beat Hauser over the shoulder.
The Ice penalty kill continues to be a hot topic. After allowing two goals on three chances in Game 3, the club was operating at a horrid 50 per cent efficiency on the road this post-season.
The T-Birds went one-for-five with the man advantage on this night, the lone tally coming in the second period when Sawchyn took a carem off the wall before chipping in his third goal of the playoffs.
The visitors pushed back four minutes later when Ben Zloty made a nifty spin move at the point to evade a Thunderbirds defender before sending the puck on net, where Friesen corralled the rebound in front of the net and had enough time to turn and shoot the puck past Milic to draw the Ice back even with his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Then a dose of controversy struck for the second time in the series.
The Ice had been snakebitten by allowing consecutive goals within short spans in Game 2 and 3 — conceding two goals in eight seconds in Game 2 and three goals in 45 seconds in Game 3 — but, on this night, appeared to parlay a pair of markers to change the course of the game. Or so it had seemed. Latimer got to the T-Birds’ net again as the puck fluttered above Milic before raising his right elbow to deflect the puck into the net.
After a lengthy review, the goal was reversed.
“They wouldn’t tell me anything,” Patrick said. “All I know is the review I saw was inconclusive. The player swears it hits the shaft of his stick, so if there’s a different view that 100 per cent proves that it didn’t, it would’ve been nice to see it.
“I think it was (deflating). How it took 15 minutes of standing there when we had a lot of momentum. We might’ve been playing our best hockey of the game during that time and pretty disappointed that they took that long.”
While the chances remained aplenty, the Ice wouldn’t strike again. The deciding blow came at the 7:47 mark of the final act when Arizona Coyotes draft pick Dylan Guenther, who won a WHL championship with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season, finished a tic-tac-toe passing play with a blistering one-timer from the high slot to give the hosts a crucial lead.
The razor-thin margin for error entering Game 4 has now evaporated going into a potential season-ending Game 5 for the Winnipeg Ice.
The message that remains is clear: it’s win or go home.
“We knew coming into it, we needed to win in this building,” said Owen Pederson, in his fifth and final season with the Ice. “So, looking to next game, we have a chance to bring the series back to Winnipeg and if we can play how we played tonight, we’ll have a good chance.”
Added Zach Benson: “We got to play desperate hockey. I thought we played a great game tonight and I think we just have to continue playing that way. We have to bury our chances and we just have to compete.”
The Ice will try to claw their way back into the series Friday in Kent, WA. Puck drops at 9 p.m. CT.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.
Updated on Thursday, May 18, 2023 8:55 AM CDT: Adds date reference