Jack Karran shrugged and said he wasn’t worried.
The Nelson Leafs had skated off the ice Monday following a miserable outing that left them one loss away from elimination against the Spokane Braves. But Karran was adamant after the game the team would be OK.
Two days later, his faith paid off.
After tying the series Tuesday, the Leafs returned home and hammered the Braves 6-2 to win Game 7, clinch the Neil Murdoch Division semifinal and ensure a terrific season didn’t end prematurely.
“Win all those games just for no reason? We proved tonight why we came first in the division,” said Karran.
Karran and Shawn Campbell each scored twice, Mitchell Lavoie, Reid Wilson added singles and Caiden Kreitz stopped 25 shots for the Leafs on Wednesday in front of 888 fans at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Nelson opens the Neil Murdoch Division final Saturday at home to the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, who advanced by sweeping the Grand Forks Border Bruins. Nelson also hosts Game 2 on Sunday.
This series was the only one in the KIJHL playoffs to go longer than five games, and it’s a short rest before the weekend. Is Karran worried? Not a chance.
“I just expect the boys to come out with the same will to win as the last two games and I think we’ll be all right.”
Bear Hughes and Aaron Morris each scored for the Braves, while Ben Waslaski allowed all six goals on 37 shots.
“Kudos to Spokane,” said Leafs head coach Mario DiBella. “For the shortened bench … they were full measure. They gave us all we could handle. They played from Game 1 drop of the first puck to Game 7, right at the very end.”
DiBella said after Game 5 the coaching staff spoke to the team collectively and then individually prior to Game 6.
“The true emphasis was that the team that gets to four wins first is the team that wins. We’re going into Game 6 and it was up to us whether we would allow them to take our sticks away.”
Cole Wyatt gave the Leafs a preview of the lead early in the first. He zipped into the Braves zone and fired a shot that bounced off the side of the net but fooled the goal judge into lighting the lamp a second too soon.
They got a real lead shortly after. Spokane was called for too many men on the ice and Campbell capitalized with a shot from the slot straight over Waslaski’s shoulder into the top corner of the net.
Spokane answered with a power-play goal of its own. Hughes skated in and slid a shot past Kreitz’s pad with five minutes left in the first period.
The intense pace of the first continued on after the intermission. Morris gave the Braves their first lead of the game with a wrist shot just 25 seconds into the period.
Lavoie tied the game on a solid individual effort less than five minutes later. The Leafs were on a power play when Lavoie held off three Braves in Waslaski’s crease to score on his own rebound.
“It feels amazing,” said Lavoie. “That Game 7 feeling is nothing you can describe.”
The Leafs then survived a 5-on-3, earned a breather with a Spokane penalty and took the lead with the ensuing 4-on-4 when Wilson wired a wrist shot past Waslaski.
Karran gave Nelson a two-goal lead with four minutes left in the period. Wyatt was working behind the net when he made a pass behind his back to Karran, who deked once and scored.
Campbell added his second of the night eight minutes into the third period. Hughes was serving a penalty when Campbell collected the puck, turned and fired from nearly the same position as his first goal to give Nelson a 5-2 lead.
The Braves pulled Waslaski with two and a half minutes, but Karran broke through the visitors’ defence and added the empty netter to send Nelson onto the next round.
Leaflets: F Joshua Stypka (upper body) sat out for the Leafs. D Michael LeNoury (upper) dressed but didn’t play.