Barrie holds off Sudbury in exciting third period for 3-2 win, 1-0 series lead
It was important for the Barrie Colts to start the post-season on the right foot.
And they managed to hold on to home ice with a win.
The Colts showed some excellent flashes of play at both ends of the ice and it was enough for them to defeat the Sudbury Wolves 3-2 Thursday, giving Barrie a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Final.
“We played very defensive and had our offensive moments too, but the key is that we played defensively and kept our composure,” said Colts winger Kevin Labanc. “It becomes a big factor.
“You don’t want to take any dumb penalties and let the other team get a goal, so we have to stay composed and keep competing.”
It was a good first period for the Colts, and they were rewarded with a lead.
Both teams began somewhat tentatively, as players adjusted to the high pressure of a playoff situation.
Evan de Haan nearly opened up the scoring for Sudbury less than two minutes in, but his shot rang off of both posts and back out.
The Colts had a couple of power-play chances back-to-back, but despite a number of shots on net, they couldn’t beat Wolves starter Franky Palazzese.
It took an even-strength opportunity to open the scoring for Barrie.
Labanc cut into the Wolves zone and dropped a pass for Justin Scott, who stepped into a wrist shot.
Palazzese got a piece of the attempt, but not enough to keep it from landing behind him in the net.
“I saw Scotter there (behind me), and it was a great shot, a quick release,” Labanc said. “Just get it on net and you never know what could happen.”
Sudbury nearly evened things up on its own man advantage, but Brody Silk was robbed by Mackenzie Blackwood, who, from his knees, had gone post-to-post and got his glove up to snare the winger’s shot.
“Blackie had, overall, a great game,” Labanc said. “He kept us in the game the whole time, so a lot of credit to him.
“With each game, he’s going to get more and more confident.”
Barrie carried the lead into the second period and would extend it thanks to the third line once again.
Labanc got the puck from C.J. Garcia and looked to centre a pass in front of the goal.
Wolves forward Connor Crisp reached out and got his stick in the way of the feed, but in doing so, redirected the puck past a committed Palazzese and into the Sudbury goal to make it 2-0 Barrie.
“I thought we had good pace early on,” said Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk. “We knew we were in for a battle with these guys.
“It’s been tight all year and tonight was no different.”
The Wolves got back into the game on the power play, when Nathan Pancel knocked home Radek Faksa’s initial attempt, which hit the crossbar.
“I thought we were playing pretty solid, but there were some times where we took some undisciplined penalties and got ourselves into trouble,” Hawerchuk said.
The Colts had a scary moment shortly thereafter, when captain Aaron Ekblad blocked Kevin Raine’s point shot with his elbow, and needed to get checked out by the trainers.
Ekblad would only miss a couple of shifts before returning to the ice.
His teammates gave him a bigger lead to work with, as Zach Hall blasted a setup from Andreas Athanasiou past Palazzese on the blocker side, giving the Colts a 3-1 cushion after 40 minutes.
The Wolves came out strong in the third period, getting the first 10 shots in the frame.
They would also get a fortunate bounce to help them back into the game.
Blackwood made a save and tried to freeze the puck, but instead knocked it out in front of him, and a Colts defender’s attempt to clear was blocked by Trevor Carrick.
The puck was then played down to Pancel, who, from the goal line, beat Blackwood on a high shot to reduce Sudbury’s deficit to 3-2.
After that point, Barrie did a great job of protecting its net, not allowing another shot on goal until Mathew Campagna’s wraparound attempt almost eight minutes later.
With the Wolves pressing for an equalizer, de Haan would get too aggressive, running Scott from behind into the boards.
de Haan was assessed a four-minute penalty with just 3:44 left on the clock, giving the Colts a man advantage for the rest of the game.
Barrie had some chances to score, but mainly focused on controlling the puck around the Sudbury zone.
By the time the Wolves finally cleared the puck, there were just eight seconds left, and the Colts were able to just hold it in their own zone to kill the clock and earn a Game 1 win.
The Colts will be looking to pull ahead 2-0 when they host Sudbury in Game 2 on Saturday night.
“They’re all important (games to win),” Hawerchuk said. “You have to get four, but you want to start with one.
“It’s good to get that first one.”
Familiar foes – With this playoff series now underway, the Colts and Wolves are guaranteed at least a dozen meetings this year, with the possibility of playing each other up to 15 times if the opening round goes the distance. Sudbury had the edge in the regular-season, defeating Barrie in five of the eight matchups.
Reaching the rafters – Both Andreas Athanasiou and Aaron Ekblad’s names will be sitting near the top of a couple of leaderboards that hang in the rafters very soon. Athanasiou’s 49 goals this season was the second most in franchise history, while Ekblad now has 116 points, which puts him fourth all-time in Colts scoring by a defenceman.
Not dressed for tonight’s game: Barrie was without the services of Joseph Blandisi (virus), Nick Pastorious and Mac Clutsam, while Sudbury scratched Austin Clapham, Jacob Harris, Connor Cummins and David Zeppieri.
Local flavour: Alliston native Connor Crisp returns to Barrie once again as a member of the Wolves. The Montreal Canadiens draft pick had 28 goals and 27 assists this season, while leading Sudbury with 120 penalty minutes.
40-goal men: Only three players in the Eastern Conference scored more than 40 goals this season, and all of them are involved in this series. Athanasiou led the Colts with 49 goals, good enough to tie for second in the league, while Sudbury boasts a pair of 40-goal snipers in Nicholas Baptiste (45) and Nathan Pancel (42).
COLTS ON THE SCORE SHEET:
Kevin Labanc: 1G, 1A
C.J. Garcia: 2A
Justin Scott: 1G
Zach Hall: 1G
Brendan Lemieux: 1A
Andreas Athanasiou: 1A
Mackenzie Blackwood: 29 saves
How the first round shapes up:
Game 1 Thurs. March 20 – Sudbury 2 at Barrie 3
Game 2 Sat., March 22 – Sudbury at Barrie 7:30
Game 3 Tues., March 25 – Barrie at Sudbury 7:00
Game 4 Thurs. March 27 – Barrie at Sudbury 7:00
Game 5 Fri., March 28 – Sudbury at Barrie 7:30
Game 6 Sun., March 30 – Barrie at Sudbury 7:00
Game 7 Tues., April 1 – Sudbury at Barrie 7:30