On a night of mayhem it was a tenacious group of Winnipeg Ice who kept their cool and emerged victorious at Wayne Fleming Arena.
Owen Pederson and Mikey Milne scored power-play goals to break a 1-1 tie in the third period as the Ice outlasted the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-1 in WHL Eastern Conference final action before an announced crowd of 2,000 Saturday night.
The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 with action set to resume in Edmonton Monday night.
Saturday’s game turned on a reckless hit by Edmonton’s Jaxsen Wiebe, who levelled Ice blue-liner Max Streule two minutes into the third period. Wiebe was ejected after being assessed a checking-to-the-head major and the Ice made him pay dearly for his indiscretion.
"We did stay under control," said Ice head coach James Patrick. "We didn’t lose our cool when some of those things were happening."
Pederson broke the tie, pouncing on Connor McClennon’s rebound to beat Oil Kings goaltender Sebastian Cossa at 3:15.
Milne followed that up with a stellar dash up the ice, skating around defender Luke Prokop and out of the reach of all-star Kaiden Guhle before jamming the puck underneath Cossa at 6:20.
The puck appeared to cross the goal-line before Milne knocked Cossa back into the net on the play. After a lengthy video review, it was ruled a good goal although Milne was handed a minor for goaltender interference.
"I just kind of took it to the net there and kind of lost the handle of it," explained Milne. "I think it went in before I kind of made contact there but I was definitely a little bit worried that it wasn’t gonna count. But once it did, it felt pretty nice."
Milne added his third of the game into an empty net. It was his second hat trick of the playoffs and the undrafted 19-year-old now has a team-leading 13 goals in 12 games.
Streule completed Winnipeg’s scoring in the final minute.
"We know (it’s) next-man-up mentality," said Milne. "One guy goes down and we need new guys to step up and we did just that. I thought in the third we came out hot and we gave it to them and when we play like that we’re hard team to beat."
Alexander was making his first start since March 5, a stretch of 29 regular-season and playoff games due to an extended rehab from a lower-body injury and, more recently, a hot streak by sophomore sensation Daniel Hauser. In Game 1, Alexander came on in relief of Hauser, stopping 18 of 19 shots. His only blemish was a botched clearing attempt on Tyler Horstmann’s overtime winner.
"I’ve worked really hard over the past couple of months to get through what I had and I think getting in (Friday) night’s game definitely helped my confidence a lot and just kind of calmed myself down," said Alexander, who stopped 35 shots. "The guys made it really easy for me to adjust and tonight I was just seeing pucks really well. I was happy with our D-zone (coverage) and our especially our penalty kill."
Milne opened scoring for the second consecutive night, redirecting Ben Zloty’s point shot over Cossa’s outstretched glove at 10:08 of the first period.
The Oil Kings evened the game at 1-1 on a man advantage when Logan Dowhaniuk’s point shot eluded Alexander with Jalen Luypen screening out front at 18:45. Pederson had been assessed a double minor for high-sticking Edmonton’s Luke Prokop in the mouth.
Wiebe’s hit and subsequent ejection was a major incident yet Streule emerged apparently unscathed.
The same couldn’t be said for his teammates — centre Matt Savoie and right-winger Connor McClennon.
In the middle frame, Savoie was crushed into the boards in front of the Ice bench by Edmonton centre Justin Sourdif at high speed.
Linesman Tarrington Wyonzek was collateral damage on the play with all three men making contact simultaneously. Wyonzek was shaken up but continued in the game. Sourdif appeared unhurt and Savoie was helped to the dressing room with what appeared to be an upper-body injury. He did not return.
In the third, Sourdif plowed McClennon into the boards and the veteran Ice winger struggled to get back to the bench.
Patrick said both players will be re-evaluated today.
"It was a tightly fought, emotional, hard-battled game and it was 1-1 in the third," said Patrick, whose club was 2-for-5 with the man advantage. "We took advantage of the power play. It had its ups and downs during the game but it really came through for us then."
Cossa finished with 18 saves.
With a 14-hour bus ride to Edmonton awaiting both teams after Game 2, the WHL determined the series would be a 2-3-2 format with Games 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for Rogers Place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
All three games start at 8 p.m. Winnipeg time.
Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be played at Wayne Fleming Arena on Sunday, May 29 and Tuesday, May 31, respectively.
BLUE-LINES: Edmonton was 1-for-4 on the power play… Three stars: 1. Mikey Milne, Winnipeg (three goals, six shots); 2. Gage Alexander, Winnipeg (35 saves); 3. Zach Benson, Winnipeg.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.