Five-game winning streak, five games left until the playoffs.
It’s time for a break.
Alek Erichuk scored twice in the Nelson Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Castlegar Rebels on Saturday. Now Erichuk and his teammates get nine much-needed days off before a final regular-season sprint leading into the post-season.
“It will be a good rest for all the guys who are hurt or injured,” said Erichuk. “Just sitting out will give us lots of time to recover.”
Nelson’s roster is mostly healthy, although the team did occasionally look a little tired on its second consecutive game after blowing out the Rebels 7-2 in Castlegar the previous night.
Nelson doesn’t play again until another home game Feb. 11 against the Rebels, after which they host Creston Valley before three straight games against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
The Nitehawks lead the Leafs by two points atop the Neil Murdoch Division and have two games in hand, so the division title could still swing either way.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said he plans to give his players a few days off before practice, and playoff preparations, pick up midweek.
“I’m feeling pretty excited about going into playoffs this year,” said DiBella. “I like how we’re poised heading into playoffs.”
Jaden Shumilak and Tyler Pisiak also scored for the Leafs (26-12-6), while Anderson Violette got the start and finished with 28 saves.
Cortez Favot and Griffen Ryden had goals for the Rebels (11-24-6). Ethan Lawczynski, who was on the hook for all seven goals Friday, returned to the Rebels’ net and made 29 saves.
Castlegar’s goalie appeared to have a short memory early in Saturday’s game. He made a steely slide across his crease to rob Shumilak. Five minutes later it was Lawczynski again as he denied Brandon Costa’s breakaway chance.
Lawczynski’s effort opened the door for Castlegar to grab the lead.
Nelson’s Adam Diotte was sent to the penalty box for slashing, and only moments into the power play Favot jumped on a rebound for a 1-0 Rebels advantage.
“I thought coming off of last night’s game — last night’s game was pretty spirited and physical — I thought the play was more controlled,” said DiBella.
“I thought we got off to a bit of a slow start. We played real well when we distributed the puck. When we decided that we were going to do it ourselves, things didn’t go according to plan.”
A slew-foot penalty to Castlegar’s Ben Anderson set up the Leafs for a four-minute man advantage, which they carried into the intermission.
That penalty finally paid off 28 seconds into the second period. Erichuk fired a shot from the blue-line that trickled past Lawczynski to tie the game.
Shumilak gave Nelson the lead only 23 seconds later when he was well placed to backhand a rebound off a Joe Davidson shot.
Erichuk returned to the scoresheet by virtue of being the last Leaf to touch the puck on a messy goal. A scramble in front of Lawczynski led to two Rebels stuck in their own net and, somehow, the puck as well.
Erichuk later admitted he thought the opposing players may have unintentionally assisted his goal.
“I just shot it and I saw it hit the post,” he said. “A little scrum in front of the net and all of a sudden the ref called a goal.”
The game geared down considerably in the third period until a terrific effort by Castlegar’s Josh Wiens.
The Rebels were being pressed by Nelson’s power-play unit when Wiens collected the puck, burst up the ice and behind Violette. He found a trailing Ryden, who had an open net to shoot on and cut Nelson’s lead to one.
Castlegar pulled Lawczynski with 1:13 left, but Pisiak calmly tapped an easy shot into the empty net to guarantee Nelson’s win.
Leaflets: Nelson wore its puzzle-piece jerseys marking Autism Awareness Month. The Leafs will wear the jerseys at every February home game.