Silver platters were invented for goals like Jack Karran’s game winner Saturday night.
The Nelson Leafs captain was camped behind the opposing net when Grand Forks goaltender Ross King stopped a shot. King and every other player on the ice paused, believing the puck had settled under his pads.
Only Karran — and a rising tide of screaming fans — noticed the puck was still live inches behind King’s skate. Karran skated around the net before King could react to score with 1:54 left in regulation and give the Leafs a 4-3 win over the Border Bruins.
“It’s a gift,” said Karran. “We needed that.”
They sure did. The Leafs looked invincible throughout September and for most of October. But lately they’ve struggled to win games they should against worse teams, in part due to a packed injury ward and losing leading goal scorer Ryan Piva to a Junior A promotion.
But Nelson looked strong Saturday in a game that could provide a road map back to consistency.
“I think the way we came out in the first tonight with non-stop effort, throwing the body, getting lots of shots right at the beginning, that really helps and can carry the momentum right through the game,” said Karran. “When we come out flat we just can’t get into a rhythm.”
Karran finished with two goals, while Easton Jolie and Keenan Crossman also scored for the Leafs (16-6-1) and Hunter Young stopped 36 shots.
King finished with 42 saves for Grand Forks (10-13-2). Zane Avery scored twice for the visitors with Nathan Cohen-Wallis scoring on a penalty shot.
Nelson started the game on the back foot with two consecutive early penalties. The first of those penalties actually saw the Leafs out-shoot the Border Bruins, who would have scored on the second penalty were it not for a sweet split-pad save by Young.
A Hail Mary pass across the neutral zone by Tyler Nypower led to the Leafs’ first goal. Nypower’s pass found Jolie, who dodged one defender and put a shot through King’s pads for the 1-0 lead at 10:41.
Grand Forks tied the game just 44 seconds into the second period. Cohen-Wallis was brought down on a breakaway and finished off the ensuing penalty shot with a top-corner snipe on Young.
“I thought [the game] had ebbs and valleys,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “I thought we totally dominated in the first period and they came out and, what I thought was a weak penalty shot call, they scored on what was a great shot.”
The game remained level until the visitors struck again on the power play. Avery fired a shot from in close on Young, then scored on his own rebound for the 2-1 advantage.
It looked as though the Border Bruins would carry that lead back into the intermission until Karran scored with 5.8 seconds left on the clock to tie the game once again.
But Avery, who entered the game fifth overall in KIJHL scoring, restored the Border Bruins’ lead just over five minutes into the third. Leafs defenceman Michael LeNoury was serving a tripping penalty when the puck bounced high in front of Young and Avery batted it out of the air for his second goal of the night.
Nelson rallied once more. Crossman gathered the puck from the corner and skated into the slot. King made the first save but Crossman flipped the rebound over the goalie’s pads, tying the game at three.
“It’s hard to score when you’re not getting shots,” said Crossman. “We’ve been struggling with not taking good shot opportunities, so it was definitely part of the game plan tonight, a lot of shots on net. It worked out.”
King made an amazing save with less than five minutes left in regulation. Brady Miller whipped around the net in an attempt to slip the puck between King and the post, but the Grand Forks’ goalie went to the ice just in time for the save of the night.
Leaflets: Nelson’s injury woes continue to fill seats in the stands. F Shawn Campbell, F Scott Lancaster, D Dylan Rantucci, D Kalem Hanlon, G Caiden Kreitz are all still out. F David Sanchez meanwhile served the second of a two-game suspension for checking from behind. F Logan Wullum also left the game with an injury, although DiBella said he expects Wullum will be ready to play next weekend. … Nelson’s next game is Nov. 30 in Spokane. The Leafs return home next Saturday for a game against Castlegar.