The moment came and went for the Nelson Leafs.
The Leafs, having rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a power-play chance to take control of a testy Game 2, instead gave up a turnover during a poor breakout. That led to a short-handed goal by Beaver Valley’s Ollie Clement, which silenced the arena and proved to be the game-winner.
The Nitehawks went on to win 6-2 Saturday, tying up the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal on a night when undisciplined play prevented the Leafs from ever taking charge.
Ryan Quast, who scored one of the Leafs’ two goals, said the Nitehawks’ shorty was a turning point.
“Giving up a short-handed goal is never something good for the team, but we should have bounced back a little better,” said Quast. “And I think we did, just a couple empty-net goals and things that set us up, but nothing that makes them the better team. We’ll still be the better team in this series.”
Tyson Lautard also scored for the Leafs, with Jasper Tait stopping 25 shots.
Nathan Dominici, Kaleb Percival, Lucas Gartner, Boris Hristov and Ethan Smyth also had goals for the Nitehawks, while Connor Stojan made 29 saves.
Game 3 is Tuesday in Fruitvale.
Leafs head coach Briar McNaney disagreed with the importance of the Clement’s goal. The Leafs, he said, had already staged one comeback. He had faith they would provide another.
“We truly believe in this team that at any given moment we can come back and win a hockey game.”
Nelson opened the first with an onslaught of shots, none of which seemed to trouble Stojan. At the other end, Tait saw less rubber but made the save of the period after stopping a Nitehawks breakaway.
The Nitehawks slowly found their legs and by the end of the period were all over the Leafs. The period ended without a goal, despite both teams combining for 27 shots.
Beaver Valley took the first lead of the game with both teams playing 4-on-4 in the second period. Dominici managed to poke the puck between Tait’s pads and the post for the 1-0 lead.
The bad luck continued for the Leafs. An injury to Seamus Boyd sent the forward to the locker room for the rest of the game, and the Leafs whiffed on an open net during a power play only to have the advantage negated by a roughing-after-the-whistle penalty to Lucas Byrne.
On the ensuing power play, Percival skated end-to-end and backhanded a shot over Tait’s glove.
But the Leafs battled back with two quick goals before the period ended.
Quast got the Leafs back into the game during yet another 4-on-4. His first shot went off the crossbar, but then Quast circled behind the net, took a pass in the slot and beat Stojan with a wristshot.
“When we’re in the O-zone and we’re moving the puck well, we’re definitely the better team no matter who we play,” he said. “If we can find each other and put the puck in just like we did that will help us moving forward.”
The Leafs then took advantage of a nice passing play on the rush that ended with Lautard’s shot through Stojan’s five-hole to tie the game at two.
But the visitors took charge in the third period. Beaver Valley penalty killers pressured the Leafs defence in the neutral zone, which led to Clement collecting the puck and whipping a shot past Tait for the pivotal short-handed goal.
Penalties added up for the Leafs, who took two more at a critical time when they needed to be playing offence.
Beaver Valley used one of those power plays to seal the win. Gartner’s point shot slipped under Tait’s blocker arm for a 4-2 lead.
McNaney said he wanted to give Tait a start after Frederick Larochelle got the nod for Game 1. The rookie goalie, he said, needed to make a playoff appearance. McNaney may switch between the netminders as the series progresses.
“I’m definitely still confident in Tait. He’s a good goalie. He’s proved it all all year throughout practice and games. The scoreboard definitely doesn’t reflect how he played or how we played. We as a team got scored on six times. Not Jasper Tait.”
A hit to Ryland Mennie left the Leafs defender on ice. He had to be helped off, and McNaney was incensed on the bench by the lack of a call. McNaney declined to comment when asked about the incident.
Beaver Valley’s Smyth appeared to score, but the goal was waved off for a hooking call. The Nitehawks took another penalty shortly after, and McNaney pulled Tait to give the Leafs a 6-on-3 with five minutes left.
But the move backfired when Hristov backhanded a perfect shot from deep in his zone straight into the Leafs’ empty net. Tait again left the net, and that led to yet another short-handed empty net for Smyth to score into.
Leaflets: The injuries to Boyd and Mennie were still being assessed after the game. … The Leafs were missing two of their key players. F Johnny Carmichael was suspended two games after the series opener for head contact. F Bennett Anklewich also served the second of a two-game suspension for head contact.
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