The Winnipeg Ice are heading to the WHLs Eastern Conference final.
Not even a vigorous push-back from the pesky Moose Jaw Warriors in Game 5 of their conference semifinal could deny the hosts, who fell behind 2-0 only to surge to a 6-3 triumph before 1,819 fans at Wayne Fleming Arena Friday night.
Matt Savoie scored twice for the winners, including a crucial second-period goal to tie the game 2-2 and a timely insurance marker in the third period.
Our group was really positive on the bench, said Savoie, explaining the comeback. We had a lot a lot of vocal guys keeping our spirits up. So just sticking with it, playing our game. Playing defence-first. I thought we did a better job of that going into the second period and once we started getting goals, I thought we just kept rolling.
The Winnipeg victory catapulted the top-seeded Ice into an Eastern Conference showdown with the second-seeded Edmonton Oil Kings. It will be the franchises first trip to the a conference final since 2010-11, when the Kootenay Ice won conference and league titles.
The Warriors had a history of poor performances on Wayne Fleming Arena ice, losing all three regular-season visits to Winnipeg by a combined 22-3 score. They were also outscored 13-1 en route to losses in Games 1 and 2 of the series.
But Moose Jaw, buoyed by the return of all-star defenceman Daemon Hunt from injury, administered a jolt to their hosts with Ryder Korczacks goal 46 seconds into the game.
The 19-year-old centre roofed a shot from the faceoff dot over Ice goaltender Daniel Hausers shoulder to give Moose Jaw its first lead of the season at Wayne Fleming Arena.
The visitors kept up the pressure and finally made it 2-0 on Thomas Tiens marker at 15:52 of the opening period. Winnipeg struck back at 17:04 when Zach Benson scored his eighth of the post-season on a wraparound. The Ice were fortunate to not be trailing by more than a goal after 20 minutes.
I thought they skated and worked so hard harder than they have, said Ice head coach James Patrick. They raised their game, they played more aggressive, their D was pinching on everything and we were flat-footed and caught by surprise our whole group. They outskated us the whole first period pretty much.
As much as the Warriors dominated the first period, the tide turned quickly in the middle frame.
Savoie potted his fifth of the playoffs at the 1:39 mark and then unsung hero Cole Muir, with his second goal in as many games took off on a one-on-one break with Warriors blue-liner Lucas Brenton draped all over him before jamming the puck past goaltender Carl Tetachuk.
He was dead, he was at the end of the shift, said Patrick laughing. And he found a way and he just kind of carried the guy on his back for the last 10 feet but he got the puck in the net.
Conor Geekie made it 4-2, converting Chase Wheatcrofts feed, at 15:04 before the Warriors closed the gap to one goal with Atley Calverts power-play snipe two minutes later.
Savoie added his sixth of the playoffs at 4:03 of the third period and Mikey Milne added his team-leading ninth goal into an empty net.
Hauser, who has played all 10 games of Winnipegs post-season run so far, finished with 23 saves. Tetachuk stopped 22 shots.
The conference final will start with the Ice hosting Games 1 and 2 on Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21.
Im looking forward to playing them theyre a good team, said Savoie, who hails from nearby St. Albert, Alta. We do some more preparation on this week and really get the systems dialed in for them… Theyre a hard-working club. Weve got to dig deep into him here this week and watch some video and prepare for them.
Edmonton, fresh from a four-game sweep of the Red Deer Rebels in the conference semis, is the lone team with a winning record against the Ice in 2021-22, taking three of the four regular-season meetings between the clubs and outscoring Winnipeg 14-11 over that span.
In fact, Winnipegs lone victory a 5-2 decision on Dec. 11 at Wayne Fleming Arena came with Edmontons four first-round NHL draft picks (defenceman Kaiden Guhle, forwards Dylan Guenther and Jake Neighbours and goaltender Sebastian Cossa) away with Canadas national junior team.
I certainly respect them, said Patrick of the Oil Kings. I think theyre really well coached and (they have) a lot of depth. They play any type of game.
The Oil Kings added another Team Canada player, right-winger Justin Sourdif, at the WHL trade deadline.
The Ice, meanwhile, were without NHL first-rounder Carson Lambos on Dec. 11, who was also suiting up for Team Canada.
BLUE-LINES: The Ice went 0-for-1 on the power play. Moose Jaw was 1-for-2… Moose Jaw captain Daemon Hunt (lower-body injury) played for the first time March 19… Three stars: 1. Matt Savoie, Winnipeg (two goals); 2. Carson Lambos, Winnipeg (one assist); 3. Mikey Milne, Winnipeg (one goal, two assists) … Facing a 14-hour bus ride between cities, the WHL has determined the Oil Kings-Ice final series will have a 2-3-2 format with Games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, to played at Rogers Place. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be back in Winnipeg.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.