Josh Williams felt the shot hit his ribs, and fell backward onto the ice to finish the save.
The Nelson Leafs goaltender knew there was no goal, but no one else did. One Kimberley Dynamiter even began to celebrate what, in another reality perhaps, would have been the game-tying goal with only seconds left on the clock.
Of course, the puck wasn’t even close to the goal-line.
“I was like, why is everyone saying that’s in?” said Williams.
Even so, the save put an exclamation mark on a 4-3 win for the Leafs on home ice Monday, and gave Nelson a 2-1 series lead over Kimberley in the Kootenay Conference final.
Williams finished with 37 saves, while Logan Wullum, Justin Podgorenko, Ryan Cooper and Jaiden LaPorte each scored for the Leafs.
Chase Gedny, James Farmer and Nicholas Ketola replied for Kimberley, while Cody Campbell stopped 22 shots.
Three of Nelson’s goals came on the power play, but it was the work of its penalty kill that made the difference.
Kimberley dominated the Leafs in the second period, and outshot the home team 17-2. But the Dynamiters scored just one goal during the middle frame, and couldn’t capitalize on a 5-on-3 against a rock solid Nelson defensive effort.
“I feel like that was the changing point there,” said Leafs defenceman Zach Morey. “That kept us within arm’s length of the win and we came back out in the third, put the puck in the net a couple times and history is written.”
Nelson was embarrassed in the 8-0 series opener on Friday. But the team rallied in Game 2 with a 5-3 win, and suddenly have the series lead against a Dynamiters team that owned the best record in the KIJHL during the regular season.
“Sometimes a little snowball forms at the top of the mountain and by the time it gets to the bottom it’s an avalanche…,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “I thought the coaching staff prepared the players and the players are committed to what it is we are trying to accomplish here, and they were resilient and full measure for the win in Game 2.”
And, it turned out, in Game 3 as well.
The first power play of the game went to the Leafs, and they didn’t waste it. Dash Thompson’s point shot was deflected by Wullum past Campbell 10 minutes into regulation, and Nelson had the early 1-0 lead.
A high-sticking penalty to Ethan Land gave Kimberley its first look at the power play. Williams lost his stick making a save and ended up being beat stick side by Gedny to tie the game at the three-minute mark.
Yet another power-play goal restored the Leafs’ lead just 20.4 seconds before the end of the first period. Podgorenko wired a nasty wrist shot that Campbell had no chance on, and Nelson went to the locker room with a 2-1 advantage.
The Dynamiters returned to the ice with a clear sense of purpose after the break.
Kimberley stifled the Leafs in the neutral zone and benefitted from a slew of Leafs’ penalties.
None of those paid off for the Dynamiters, Williams made several astonishing stops, and it took a slick move for the visitors to finally score. Farmer skated into the zone, undressed a Leafs defender and beat Williams to tie the game at two.
But despite 20 minutes of hockey overwhelmingly in favour of Kimberley, neither side had an advantage heading into the third.
“We were playing really well defensively,” said Williams. “They were shooting everything from the point and I was able to see everything. Even on our kills, we got in a little bit of penalty trouble but [were] unreal on the kill.”
That changed fast after the puck drop.
Mason Palaga carried the puck into the Leafs’ zone and fired a big shot on Williams. He couldn’t control the rebound, which went right to a waiting Ketola for the go-ahead goal at 17:47.
But two quick goals by Nelson changed the tone of the game.
First, the Leafs once again capitalized on a power play. Cooper wound up to beat Campbell just 14 seconds into the man advantage.
Then only eight seconds later LaPorte was on Campbell’s doorstep when he took a pass from Podgorenko and scored to give Nelson a shocking 4-3 lead.
Kimberley pressed hard in the final minutes but failed to find the equalizer. Morey said he couldn’t believe how quickly the Leafs’ fortunes turned.
“If you’d have asked me if that was going to happen, I would have said no. But it’s hockey, anything can happen. It’s a game of bounces and we got the bounces tonight.”
Leaflets: Nelson was without F Sawyer Hunt (two-game suspension), F David Sanchez, F Jackson Zimmermann, and F Ethan Beattie. The Leafs had three APs in the lineup: Keenan Crossman, Riley McKinnon and Marty Ingram. D Ethan Land meanwhile was moved to forward. … Before the game, the Leafs named Neveah Mullin as their fan of the year. She was given free tickets to the game, a framed picture of the team and a new jersey that was presented by Morey, Mullin’s favourite player.