Sixty minutes of hockey, the proverbial complete game, is starting to become the Nelson Leafs’ white whale.
The Leafs matched Beaver Valley step for step in the third period, and appeared to be wearing the Nitehawks down by the time the game ended. Too bad that wasn’t the case for all of Wednesday’s game.
Beaver Valley scored a pair of quick go-ahead goals in a lopsided second period and went on to win 4-2, as well as take a 2-0 lead in the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal series.
Leafs captain Rayce Miller said his team waited too long to start playing hard in Fruitvale.
“You can’t be the victim of physicality, you have to give it back, and I felt like we responded really well [in the third period.] But we have to be like that the whole game,” he said.
It was the little things that beat Nelson against a Nitehawks side that hardly looks invincible. Too many penalties, too much hesitation, too little urgency.
“I thought there were certain players who were going and there were certain players who were just along for the ride,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella, who made a point of singling out Miller, Brendan Smith and Jordan Davie for their hard effort.
Michael Pruss, Ryan Terpsma, Nolan Percival and Allan Pruss scored for Nitehawks. Tallon Kramer finished with 27 saves.
Eamonn Miller and Rayce Miller had a goal apiece for the Leafs. Patrick Ostermann, who got the start in place of Game 1 starter Josh Williams, stopped 36 shots.
That mythical complete game? Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones said his side had it.
“We got down early and we just didn’t panic,” said Jones. “I really like the fact that we didn’t panic. Big goal from Terpsma to tie it up and then I thought the second and third period we did really quite well.”
The series returns to Nelson for Game 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
A breakdown in defence in front of the Nelson net led to Beaver Valley taking an early lead. Michael Pruss was left alone on the doorstep where he made no mistake just two minutes into regulation.
Nelson didn’t wait to respond. Eamonn Miller shot the puck, which rebounded into the air off Kramer. Miller batted the puck mid-air back over Kramer to tie the game at one at 16:48.
The Leafs were killing off a penalty when they took their first lead of the series. Rayce Miller stripped the puck at the Nitehawks blue-line, fought off a pair of defenders and fired a shot over Kramer’s shoulder.
Miller said it wasn’t the best goal of his career. “Maybe the luckiest,” he quipped.
Nelson gave up a series of penalties and Beaver Valley capitalized. Terpsma sent both teams into the intermission tied at two after he fired a point shot past Ostermann with defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff in the penalty box for slashing.
Beaver Valley came out firing in the second period.
Percival caught Ostermann well outside his crease for an easy goal 59 seconds into the frame. Ostermann, who replaced Josh Williams early in Game 1 and kept Nelson in the game despite being outshot 18-9 in the second period, took ownership for the bad goal.
“That’s my fault,” said Ostermann. “He kept walking around. Nothing the [defence] could have done, that’s completely on me.”
That lead was increased to two less than a minute later as Allan Pruss circled around the net and slid a sharp-angle shot behind the Leafs goaltender.
The series saw its second penalty shot in as many games after Eamonn Miller was brought down on a breakaway. Miller looked to have Kramer beat but whiffed on the shot.
The Nitehawks held the line in the third. Nelson ramped up the physical play and nearly had a goal with Ostermann pulled late in the third, but Kramer made a diving save that stole a goal and ended with two players on top of him.
The Leafs still believe they can win the series despite being down 2-0. Provided, of course, that they play all 60 minutes.
“We don’t feel like we’ve lost two games,” said Ostermann. “It feels like they’ve gotten lucky and won two.”
Leaflets: Nelson’s injury ward remained unchanged. D Dash Thompson (upper body), F Blair Andrews (upper body), D Max Daerendinger (upper body) and D Aigne McGeady-Bruce (illness) were out Wednesday. The Leafs don’t expect Daerendinger or McGeady-Bruce to return for the playoffs.