Jack Karran’s favourite place to be is on the tip of the crease where a goalie has trouble seeing around the six-foot-three forward.
“That’s usually where I score all my goals,” said the Nelson Leafs forward. “Just greasy, garbage goals. That’s where I like them.”
Karran might be under coach’s orders to never leave that spot again after his performance Friday.
He scored four goals, three in his preferred area and one into an empty net, as the Leafs blew out the Rebels in Castlegar 8-4 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Nelson struggled in the first period but rallied from a 2-0 deficit, largely thanks to Karran’s work in front of Rebels goaltender Curt Doyle.
Karran scored twice on the power play in the second period, then added two more in the third when the Leafs scored five unanswered goals to stun Castlegar.
Nelson never led until Logan Wullum scored the go-ahead goal with just under four minutes left in the third period. That was followed by an unassisted Sawyer Hunt goal just over a minute later, and a pair of empty-net goals by Karran and David Sanchez that sealed the win.
Hunt, who finished the game with two goals, said the team could sense Castlegar was getting tired after the first period.
“I think it’s just every single game if they are getting hit every single shift and you are getting pucks to the net and making it difficult for them, it’s going to be tiring,” said Hunt. “In a seven-game series, they are going to start wearing down in the fourth, fifth game.”
Caiden Kreitz stopped 20 shots in net for Nelson, which can sweep the series Saturday back in Castlegar.
Brady Daniels responded with a hat trick of his own for Castlegar, Reid Wilson also scored and Doyle allowed six goals on 30 shots.
The Rebels needed to wait six minutes for their first shot of the game, but that shot turned out to be their first goal. Wilson zipped into the Leafs’ zone right after a Castlegar power play ended and beat Kreitz for the early lead.
Just one Rebels shot later and it was 2-0 for Castlegar. Daniels took a pass in the slot and whipped it past Kreitz for a short-handed goal at 7:02.
Anyone looking for offence might have found more in the lineup for fries. The period ended with just 12 shots. Of course the Rebels, with two goals on four shots, probably weren’t too bothered.
All that changed in the second period, which Karran and Hunt both said was because the Leafs started playing physical.
“Even in the first they had some lucky bounces,” said Karran. “We weren’t picking up guys in front of the net and they had two goals right away but nothing really stopped us. Once we started hitting, we got all over them and they started turning it over.”
Hunt brought Nelson to within one on the Leafs’ first shot after the break. He collected the puck at the Rebels’ blue-line and beat Doyle at 18:16.
Hunt finished the regular season as the Leafs’ leading scorer, but his goals Friday were his first of the post-season.
“I feel like I’ve been contributing lots in other ways but I think the team relies on me to score some goals, so it’s good to put some in the back of the net and get the win,” he said.
Eight minutes later Karran tied it with his first of the game. Nelson was on a power play when Karran managed to tap the puck just over the goal-line.
Both teams then traded goals less than a minute apart.
First, Daniels scored his second of the game with a power-play shot from the top of the face-off circle to momentarily give Castlegar a 3-2 lead. But only 39 seconds later, with the Leafs back on the power play, Karran tied the game again by deflecting in a shot and skipped out of the crease with delight.
It was Daniels and Karran again in the third.
Daniels gave the Rebels their final lead of the game on the power play at 12:36. But two minutes later Karran picked off a Rebels pass and connected on a pretty passing play with Nicholas Wihak before finishing with a chipped-in goal to complete his hat trick and tie the game at four.
Castlegar came undone in the end, however, with Karran’s goal the first of five unanswered by the Leafs.
Now the trick for Nelson will be to not blow a 3-0 series lead like the Leafs did in the first round.
“We obviously remember everything that happened in the series against Grand Forks,” said Hunt. “We’re going to do everything we can tomorrow to not let that happen again.”
Leaflets: Nelson was missing three players. F Ryan Cooper, who left Game 2 after taking a hit to the head, was out, as was D Dash Thompson and F Mitchell Lavoie. … Friday’s game started at 4 p.m. to allow for a Selkirk Saints game afterward.