The Winnipeg Ice are on the brink of elimination, trailing the Edmonton Oil Kings in their best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference final 3-1, but there is no interest in giving up.
Head coach James Patrick, who played and coached in the NHL for more than three decades, was preaching comeback Thursday as his team prepped for Friday’s Game 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
"I’ve been around the game long enough to see teams come back," said Patrick, by phone. "I’ve seen teams down 3-1. There have been so many examples lately. Almost every year there’s teams in the NHL playoffs that have come back from 3-1.
"I’ve unfortunately been on the other side of it in Calgary one year but my message right now is just that we’re trying to win one game. We’re gonna do all we can to win one game."
Winnipeg beat the Oil Kings 5-1 in Game 2 at Wayne Fleming Arena, but pulling out a victory on the road will be more difficult. The Oil Kings, on the strength of Justin Sourdif’s second-period winner, posted a 4-2 win in Wednesday’s Game 4.
Edmonton lost only five times on home ice during the 2021-22 regular season and is a perfect 6-0 at home in the playoffs.
"We did a lot of good things (Wednesday) night," said Patrick. "The scoring chances were way closer than the game before but we just we made three real costly errors to give up easy goals and we just can’t do that against a good team."
Winnipeg was outshot 55-21 in a 5-4 overtime loss in Monday’s Game 3 at Rogers Place. In Game 4, the margin was tighter — at 36-22.
Owen Pederson, who scored his eighth and ninth goals of the playoffs in Game 4, sounded confident the Ice can rally.
"We know what we have to do to win," said Pederson. "We know we can play our game and we can we can beat these guys — we proved it and we know we can do it again."
Pederson, a fourth-year vet, has been a powerful presence in the postseason.
"He is as competitive and well-liked a player (as we have)," said Patrick. "I mean, he played the same last year. He played the same this year. For us, he’s a big body. He’s a smart hockey player. He’s a real good two-way player who will do anything for the team. I just thought his compete and battle led the way for us (Wednesday) night."
Glaring turnovers have burned the Ice in the series. On Wednesday, goaltender Gage Alexander’s errant clearing attempt led to Sourif’s game-winner.
"We were there both games; it was just a couple self-inflicted wounds," said Pederson. "I don’t think we have to re-invent the wheel or change anything huge. Just tighten up a few things defensively and maybe capitalize more offensively and we’ll be good."
Sourdif already has two winning goals in the series and dealt the Ice a devastating blow in Game 2 when his hit sidelined high-scoring centre Matt Savoie with an upper-body injury. Patrick would not say if he expects Savoie to return to the lineup Friday.
"He’s been their best player," said Patrick of Sourdif. "I look at the two game-winning goals we handed them. You talk about those two goals, I guess, and they’re both big turnovers that you want to avoid."
Should the Ice prolong the series, games 6 and 7 would be played on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively, at the arena on the University of Manitoba campus.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.