Colts edge Majors
When some players go down, others need to step up.
And on this night, one of Barrie's veterans led the way.
Norm Ezekiel scored his first-ever Ontario Hockey League playoff goal as the Barrie Colts edged the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 2-1 in Game 5 on Saturday night.
With the win, the Colts take a 3-2 series lead and have a chance to clinch a series victory on Monday night in Mississauga.
"Start to finish, I don't think either team took a shift off," said Colts defenceman Alex Lepkowski. "It seems like whoever gets to two first is going to win it.
"It was definitely a gutty effort and I'm glad we won."
But for Ezekiel, who has switched between forward and defence during his two years in the OHL, getting a game-winning goal surprised even him.
"I've been snakebitten a bit in the playoffs," Ezekiel said. "I was happy to get that one for the team.
"We really wanted this win and we were all amped up, so I was really happy that I could do that for the boys."
His teammates weren't as surprised.
"I wouldn't have counted him out," Lepkowski said of Ezekiel. "He's definitely underrated. He's a total team guy and he does everything for us."
Ezekiel played most of the third period on a unit with Josh MacDonald and Brendan Bell, as head coach Dale Hawerchuk was forced to shuffle the lines after Mark Scheifele was injured on a check from behind by Eric Diodati, who got a double-minor penalty.
The Colts forward, going into the corner for the puck, took a cross check into the back of the shoulders and his head went forward, hitting the glass.
He appeared woozy when leaving the ice and did not return.
"We won't know yet," said Hawerchuk on Scheifele's condition. "We'll assess him tomorrow."
On an offensive rush midway through the third period, MacDonald, who saw limited action before the injury to Scheifele, went into the corner and put a puck on net, which created a rebound.
Ezekiel snared it and fired a shot past Mississauga netminder Brandon Maxwell to give Barrie a 2-1 lead.
"I chipped it to (MacDonald) on the half wall and he made a nice play to set it up and put it on net," Ezekiel said.
"Maxwell's been coming out all series so it's important that we jump on those rebounds, so I just drove the net and put it home."
The Colts held their ground, thanks to some big stops by Mathias Niederberger, who made a couple of stops on Spenser Cobbold, the latter while essentially lying on his back.
"He's been phenomenal in every game," Ezekiel said. "The kid's coming up big and that's what we need from him."
In the final minute, with the net empty, Steven Beyers had a couple of chances to hit the open cage, but he was denied.
His shift eventually ended with 5.6 seconds left, when he cleared the puck over the glass, forcing him into the box and one final faceoff in the Barrie zone.
Mississauga won the draw and sprung forward, with Niederberger making the first stop, but he was shoved down and into the post by Riley Brace, dislodging the net.
The referees allowed the play to continue, and two attempts later, the Majors appeared to have tied the game with 0.14 seconds left.
But the officials went upstairs and saw what they were unable to on the ice - the net, which was knocked off by Brace's contact with Niederberger - came off of its moorings well before the puck crossed the line.
"That was definitely a heart-wrenching moment," Ezekiel said. "The net has come off a few times here and it hasn't worked out, so we were fortunate that it went our way tonight."
The Colts were outplayed off the bat and were lucky not to fall behind by more than a goal.
But their effort in the second half of the first period, along with a gifted goal, allowed them to head to the dressing room tied 1-1.
Niederberger was the busiest and best player on the ice in the opening period, looking lightning-quick on a number of early stops.
He needed to be good, because Mississauga was outshooting the Colts 10-0 just past the halfway point of the frame.
The Majors opened the scoring seconds into a man advantage, when Dylan DeMelo's shot from the top of the faceoff circle trickled through the legs of a partially-screened Niederberger to give Mississauga a 1-0 advantage.
On their next power play, the Majors looked primed to strike again, until their netminder made a critical error.
Maxwell, who was rock-solid over the first four games, caught a short-handed shoot-in by Beyers, and rather than freezing the puck, he dropped it and fired it right into the Barrie forward.
Beyers corralled the puck, circled the net and slipped it past a diving Maxwell to draw Barrie even at 1-1.
The goal gave the Colts some life, and they took off from there, outshooting the Majors 10-1 in the latter half of the opening period and creating a number of chances.
It would carry into the second period, when Barrie had a golden opportunity to take the lead on a two-minute, five-on-three man advantage.
They moved the puck around well, but Maxwell, atoning for his previous mistake, went into the half butterfly to stymie Barrie captain Colin Behenna on a cross-crease pass.
That was as good as their power play would get, as the Colts went 0-for-4 in the period and had trouble sustaining pressure at times, but on this night, their short-handed marker - along with the third-period winner - would be enough.
The Colts have won every game on home ice so far, but if they want to avoid a seventh game, they'll have to do something they haven't done yet this series - win in Mississauga.
"We can't let them get in our heads in their barn," Ezekiel said. "They play a little more chippy there and with more confidence.
"We just have to stick to our gameplan and give the effort we did tonight and we'll come out on top."
Game 6 will go at the Hershey Centre at 7 p.m.
Big shooter: Although his team has since been eliminated from the playoffs, Owen Sound defenceman and Elmvale native Chris Bigras had an impressive first-round series. The former minor midget 'AAA' Barrie Colt captain had two goals and three assists in five games to end his post-season tied for the rookie lead in points and goals.
Telegin two or bust: Through the first four games of the playoffs, Ivan Telegin has been Barrie's top scorer. In games where Telegin has two or more points, the Colts have gone 2-0. When the Russian Roadrunner has one or fewer points, Barrie had lost both times - until tonight.
Low-ish scoring: Telegin's five points is tops for any player on either team in this series, making it the only one of the eight first-round matchups that doesn't have a player currently in the top 20 for post-season scoring.
Not dressed for tonight's game: Barrie was without Zach Hall (concussion), Tanner Pearson (fibula), Jonathan Laser and Derek Hartwick. The Majors once again scratched Barrie native Jacob Graves, Justin Rasmussen, Scott Teskey and Grant Syrette.
Out of town scoreboard: Three other series were in action on Saturday night. Niagara took until the third period to pull ahead, after which they downed Oshawa 5-3 to take a 3-2 series lead. Plymouth scored six goals in the first en route to a 9-3 thrashing of Guelph to pull up 3-2 in that series, while Saginaw's 3-1 victory over Sarnia eliminates the Sting, as the Spirit take things in six games.
How the first round shapes up: Game 1 Mississauga 1 @ Barrie 3
Game 2 Barrie 0 @ Mississauga 4
Game 3 Mississauga 0 @ Barrie 4
Game 4 Barrie 2 @ Mississauga 3
Game 5 Mississauga 1 @ Barrie 2
Game 6 Barrie @ Mississauga, Monday, April 2nd, 7:00 p.m.
Game 7 Mississauga @ Barrie, Tuesday, April 3rd, 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)
COLTS ON THE SCORE SHEET:
Norm Ezekiel: 1G
Steven Beyers: 1G
Aaron Ekblad: 1A
Josh MacDonald: 1A
Mathias Niederberger: 26 saves