The Nelson Leafs might run out of kitchen sinks before this series is over.
The team threw everything including the proverbial steel drain at the Spokane Braves in Game 2 on Wednesday. That they only won 2-1 despite outshooting the visitors 45-25 showed the key to winning the series will be beating Spokane’s star goaltender Campbell Arnold.
Leafs forward Cole Wyatt, who scored one of the team’s two goals, said Arnold’s performance overshadowed a dominate night for Nelson’s offence.
“We only put up two tonight but we could have had many,” said Wyatt. “We were killing them down low, getting tons of pucks to the net, all four lines were going, they had opportunities on net and it really just clicked tonight.”
Caiden Kreitz made 24 saves for Nelson while Tulsen Fawcett scored the go-ahead goal as the Leafs took a 2-0 series lead in the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal.
The series now moves to Spokane for Game 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday. If necessary, it returns to Nelson for Game 5 on Monday.
Standing in the Leafs way Wednesday was Arnold, who turned in a 44-save performance. Alex Moore meanwhile had the only goal for Spokane.
Arnold was so good he even earned praise from Leafs head coach and former goaltender Mario DiBella.
“I would say the two games he’s played have been outstanding and certainly without him in the net we would have won both games handily. But the scores were 3-2 and 2-1 and he can take credit for how close those games were.”
Just like Game 1, offence was a slow burn for the Leafs on Wednesday. Nelson registered just two shots through the first 10 minutes, but started to break through the Spokane defence in the back half of the period. Keenan Crossman and Brady Miller each tested Arnold without success.
Jack Karran and Wyatt connected to put the Leafs up 1-0 with just 14 seconds left in the period. Karran was behind the Braves’ net when he passed to a wide open Wyatt in the slot where the Leaf fired a quick shot past Arnold for the opening salvo.
By the end of the first, the Leafs had put their early shooting troubles behind them with a 15-10 shot advantage.
Part of that turnaround from Game 1 was due to a much-improved game by the Leafs blueliners, especially when play was in the neutral zone. Nelson defenceman Kalem Hanlon said his teammates weren’t happy with themselves after Game 1, despite the win.
“I think we were a lot more controlled in our puck movement and I think we were just clicking a lot more,” said Hanlon. “A lot more chemistry tonight, for sure.”
Nelson continued to pour on the shots in the second period, but they couldn’t break Arnold. Spokane’s goaltender dropped some jaws when he dove across his crease to deny a sure Leafs goal.
At the other end, the Braves tied the game thanks to a crowded crease and a messy goal by Moore that looked as though it should have been credited to Kade Levins.
“When they got the bad bounce on the first goal, [it was a] bit of a fluke when one goes on your net like that on goaltender like Caiden Kreitz, you just know there’s not going to be any more goals allowed at his end of the ice for the rest of the game,” said DiBella.
Nelson kept the pressure on into the third period only to be stymied again and again by Arnold. Shawn Campbell had a clear look at Arnold, but the Braves goalie stepped out of his crease with a gutsy stick check to deflect the shot.
The Leafs had a four-minute opportunity to take the lead after an ill-advised butt-ending penalty by Spokane’s Mark Oestreich, who put his stick into Mitch Lavoie’s chest during a stoppage in play.
It took them three minutes of the ensuing power play to score. Karran whipped a shot that the officials said was tipped in by Fawcett for a vital one-goal lead.
Spokane pulled Arnold with just over one minute left for one last try, but the Leafs stacked up in the neutral zone and held on to take a 2-0 series advantage.
Wyatt said the key to two more victories will be for the Leafs to focus on overwhelming Arnold.
“We’ve got a good goalie matchup here, two great goalies,” he said. “Today we just got the better of him and have got to continue to throw pucks on him, just tire him out. We had close to 50 shots, so we’ve just got to keep throwing pucks on net, get lots of traffic and things are going to go our way.”
Leaflets: Nelson D Michael LeNoury suffered a broken hand during Game 1. DiBella said he hopes to have LeNoury back for the Kootenay Conference finals if the team advances that far. F Tyler Nypower (upper body) also sat out. … The Leafs called up affiliate player F Noah Quinn. … A fan with a blow horn was tossed from the game late in the first period. It wasn’t clear what the fan said that a linesman took exception to.