When a Beaver Valley player smashed a pane of glass 10 minutes into Friday’s game, it seemed like a potential metaphor for the Nelson Junior Leafs’ playoff aspirations.
The Leafs returned to home ice with two losses under their belts, one a 13-2 savaging and another one of the almost-but-not-quite contests that have marked their play with the Nitehawks in the back half of the regular season.
But Friday night the Leafs finally found their edge and picked up the 5-3 win they needed to get back in the running.
For the first time in the series the Leafs hit the board first with a marker from Gavin Currie, but lost the advantage on a power play at the 14-minute mark.
Second period saw the Nitehawks pull ahead six minutes in, thanks to a Leafs’ penalty. Though the team kept the pressure on, it wasn’t until the final three minutes that Marcus Dahl powered his way to the net and nearly took out Beaver Valley goalie Mike Vlanich as he scored.
“We just came together as a team and kept working hard, kept pushing,” Dahl told the Star following the game. “We’re sticking to Shaw’s system, and just beat them.”
But before that, there was another tense moment as the Nitehawks snuck the puck past Leafs goaltender Marcus Beesley’s outstretched leg early in the third period, pulling ahead a final time.
A mere minute later, Codey Abbey responded as players from both teams went down in a heap in front of the Nitehawks’ net.
With only three minutes to play, Colton Schell stole behind the net, to dump in a rebound from Joel Stewart and finally pull his team ahead.
Dustin Johnson, whose empty net goal ended the night, said what finally put the team ahead in scoring was a little excess traffic in front of the net.
“Look at our goals—Schell’s, there’s two guys in the crease. Abbey, two guys in the crease. Dahl almost runs the goalie over trying to put it in,” he said. “It’s just getting traffic to the net and that’s what playoffs are all about: getting greasy goals like that.”
With game four of the playoffs Saturday night, Johnson said the win is key for the team mentally.
“We’ve got new life in there,” he added. “Now we actually have a little bit of belief we’re going to win this series.”
Playoff action resumes Saturday at 7 p.m. at the NDCC.