Sam Weber is one win away from a stage he’s never played on.
The Nelson Leafs veteran made his first appearance with the team during the 2013-14 season. Since then, the furthest he’s gone in the playoffs was a first-round sweep last year.
Now Weber, in his final season with the Leafs, is achingly close to the second round.
“I think we’re pretty confident that’s happening,” he said.
The Leafs will have a chance to clinch their series at home Friday night following Thursday’s 3-2 win against the Rebels in Castlegar.
Logan Wullum scored in overtime — yes, another OT — as the Leafs took a 3-2 series lead over the favoured Rebels. Brent Headon and Dale Howell also scored for the Leafs, while Devin Allen made 36 saves.
The Rebels entered the series on a six-game winning streak, but they’ve been gradually picked apart by a tenacious Leafs squad that’s emphasized physicality against Castlegar’s skill.
“I think we always knew that we were that team,” said Weber. “All year we’ve told ourselves [we’re a] team of destiny. When we put all the pieces together and everyone shows up, look what happens. It’s pretty special.”
Everett Hicks and Logan Styler replied Rebels, with Chandler Billinghurst stopped 27 shots. Castlegar head coach Bill Rotheisler surprisingly faulted his own line change decisions as a reason why his team lost.
“I’ve done this for a long time and I couldn’t explain to you some of the coaching decisions that I made tonight, including right to the last one,” he said. “[Nelson] made a line change, we have last change, and instead of making a change when they did, knowing we needed fresh legs — a call that I would make 99 times out of 100 — I didn’t make it.”
Game 5’s pace was considerably slower than previous outings. That may be because both teams entered Thursday night having already played nearly 20 full periods, with only just one game having ended in regulation.
Three Leafs defencemen combined to put Nelson on the scoreboard first. Headon beat Billinghurst 10 minutes into regulation following a point shot from Aigne McGeady-Bruce and an assist from Kyle Rosolowski.
“I didn’t even really do anything,” said Headon. “It was a product of those guys. Aigne put the puck on net. Good timing.”
Castlegar pressed in the second. The Rebels’ first goal came after confusion between Leafs defenders led to Hicks picking their pocket. He skated in between them and whipped a wide-angle shot to tie the game at 7:30.
But Nelson regained the lead with only a minute to go in the period. Howell was left wide open for a cross-ice pass from Sawyer Hunt for an empty net and a 2-1 lead.
An on-ice collision sent a Rebels player limping off the ice and a Leaf to the locker-room. Castlegar’s Daneel Lategan went hard to the ice after he was kneed in the neutral zone by Jack Karran, who was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Castlegar may have lost a player but it gained the tying goal on the ensuing power play. Styler took a floating shot that appeared to bobble on the ice and sneak past Allen at 7:47.
The Rebels stayed on the power play, but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal before the final buzzer thanks to several brilliant saves by Allen. The resilient penalty kill drew praise from head coach Mario DiBella after the game.
“Our defensive corps is on par with anyone’s in the league,” he said. “Honestly when I see those six out there, and even the other D-man who was in the stands tonight, I have nothing but confidence they’ll get the job done.”
Weber said the team has worked on reviewing Castlegar’s power play, which clearly paid off Thursday.
“That was huge,” said Weber. “Killing off five minutes like that, that’s a lot of momentum for us. It showed.”
The veteran said there won’t be any change in the game plan Friday night.
“Same thing, take it to them. Nothing different.”
With files from Castlegar News reporter Chelsea Novak.