Nothing comes easy for the Nelson Leafs. It’s how they like it.
The Teck Cup is now the third series in the KIJHL playoffs that the Leafs have had to rally from a deficit. In the first series they came back from a 3-1 hole against Castlegar. Then in the Kootenay Conference finals Nelson lost the first two games before storming back to beat Kimberley in six games.
Now here they are playing for a championship, backs against the wall, right where they want to be.
“It’s just another story,” said Leafs forward Bryden Pow. ”We just keep building it.”
Pow scored the game winner as the Leafs edged the Revelstoke Grizzlies 2-1 in Game 3 on Monday in Nelson to claw back the visitor’s series lead.
Revelstoke now leads the Teck Cup best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 is in Nelson on Tuesday, followed by Game 5 in Revelstoke on Thursday. If necessary, a Game 6 would be Friday in Nelson with Game 7 on Saturday in Revelstoke.
Bennett Anklewich also scored for the Leafs, with Dylan Marshall making 20 saves.
Carter Bettenson replied for the Grizzlies, while Brandon Weare stopped 23 shots.
Pow said the Leafs found success during a chippy game doing what they do best.
“The mindset is come out flying, hard hitting, hard forechecking. No one can skate with us when we forecheck hard and hit hard.”
The Leafs opened the game by stepping on their own laces with three consecutive penalties. But tenacious penalty killing kept the Grizzlies from making much of the opportunities.
A cross-checking penalty to Pow gave Revelstoke yet another power play late in the first. That also came to naught, and the Leafs somehow ended the period having outshot the visitors 7-4.
The Leafs only needed one power play to get on the scoreboard.
Three minutes into the second period Nelson had the man advantage when Pow’s shot rebounded off Weare straight to Anklewich, who had an empty net to shoot at for the 1-0 lead.
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said when his team stuck to their game plan it paid off.
“We felt that if we got pucks deep and got pucks on the net and took advantage of our power-play opportunities we would come out on the right side of the scoreboard. That seemed to be the case tonight.”
Revelstoke finally struck gold on their fifth power play of the game, albeit just barely. They had only two seconds left on the advantage when a point shot rebounded off Marshall to Bettenson who scored to tie the game.
Poor discipline by both teams continued on the ice, and at one point led to a 5-on-3 advantage for the Leafs.
Pow made sure Nelson didn’t waste it with a wicked wrist shot that beat Weare top corner for the 2-1 lead, continuing a playoff trend of visits to the penalty box and markers on the scoreboard for Leafs forward.
“I play on the line, I just can’t cross it. I play with a chip on my shoulder. It’s just how I am.”
Marshall made a miracle save in the third to keep Nelson ahead.
The Leafs were on a penalty kill when Marshall dove one way to make a stop, leaving a big rebound and open net for a Grizzlies’ shooter. Marshall somehow sprawled back to stop the shot that had at least one Revelstoke player celebrating prematurely.
One more shot rang off Marshall’s post before the penalty ended, and the Leafs were finally able to exhale.
The Grizzlies kept up the pressure, forcing Marshall to keep the Leafs in the game with several more key saves.
“There are times when I want to ask my defencemen to go back to the net and check Dylan’s pulse because nothing seems to get under his skin,” said DiBella. “He’s such a calm and collected individual.”
Weare went to the bench in the final minute as Revelstoke played for a tying goal. But the Leafs held on thanks to one last terrific save by Marshall, putting Nelson back in the series.
With files from Bob Hall.