It was feisty, heated and relentless. But playoff hockey tends to be that way between two teams carrying an entire league’s worth of baggage onto the ice.
The Nelson Leafs and Beaver Valley Nitehawks entered Game 1 on Friday with the weight of recent history on them. It was their line brawl on Dec. 31 that led to multiple suspensions, a coaching change for the Leafs and unwanted national attention on the KIJHL.
So Game 1 was always likely to have a little extra testosterone fuelling it.
“It was a pace setter for the rest of the series,” said Leafs defenceman Tyson Lautard.
Lautard’s point shot in the extra frame deflected off a skate and in, lifting the Leafs to a 5-4 win over the Nitehawks in the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal opener.
Dawson Davis, Seamus Boyd, Johnny Carmichael, Crae Dawson scored for the Leafs, while Frederick Larochelle made 24 saves.
Boris Hristov scored twice and Nathan Dominici and Kaleb Percival added singles for the Nitehawks, with Connor Stojan stopping 32 shots.
Game 2 is in Nelson on Saturday.
Leafs head coach Briar McNaney said he thought his team played well despite often getting into trouble.
“We got away from some of the things that we typically do in the D-zone but offensively we were exactly who we are. Forechecking-wise, I thought we were pretty great there. They had some good bounces, but goaltending was great on both sides, and I think the right team won.”
Nelson took the lead on its second shot of the game. Carsyn Crawford’s shot deflected off Davis past Stojan for the 1-0 advantage less than two minutes after the puck dropped.
The pressure from Nelson continued and led to another goal at 6:01. The Leafs were on a power play when Carmichael’s slick pass across the slot was one-timed into the net on a hard shot by Boyd.
Beaver Valley got one back before the break. The visitors had several chances denied by Larochelle before Hristov used a wicked wrist shot to get the Nitehawks on the board.
The Nitehawks maintained momentum into the second period. Dominici scored three minutes into the frame after a scramble in front of Larochelle that led to a brief conference between officials about the possibility of goalie interference, but it was a moot debate in the end.
The Leafs again answered on two highlight-reel goals.
The first came via a sweet move by Carmichael, who swept in front of Stojan and backhanded a shot through the pads to restore Nelson’s lead.
Nelson doubled its lead on a power-play goal. Dawson picked up the puck in his own zone, skated uncontested around two confused defenders who appeared to think Lautard was offside.
Dawson finished his play with a top-corner shot on Stojan for a 4-2 lead, and the goal stood after a long chat between Beaver Valley’s coaches and the officials.
Lautard said he knew he was about to be in an off-side position and managed to get a skate on the right side of the blueline before Dawson crossed over. The goal, he thought, was never in doubt. “I was looking at the linesman, and he was like, ‘No offside.’”
The Leafs took a pair of back-to-back penalties, and on the second the Nitehawks got one back when Percival’s shot from the blueline sailed into the top corner.
Penalties continued to plague the Leafs into the third period. The puck hadn’t even been dropped when Boyd inexplicably took an unsportsmanlike call, and shortly after Ryland Mennie added a roughing penalty.
Lautard said his team needs to work on its discipline heading into Game 2.
“It was a little aggressive. We just need to shut our mouths a bit and learn how to deal with some stuff.”
Nelson was two minutes away from a Game 1 win when Hristov stretched out his stick for a beautiful tip off a shot by Percival that fooled Larochelle and sent the game to overtime.
Leaflets: Lautard was honoured before the game for being chosen as the top defenceman in the Neil Murdoch Division. Lautard, Bennett Anklewich, Carmichael, Kingsley Brockett and Reid Vulcano, as well as Beaver Valley’s Gavin Tritt, were also hat tipped for competing in their last KIJHL playoffs as 20 year olds.
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