In what turned out to be a fairly one-sided series, the Elmira Sugar Kings eliminated the Cambridge Winter Hawks from the GOJHL playoffs with a 3-1 win on Wednesday night to wrap up their best of seven series four games to one.
It was the Kings’ third win in a row, having split the first two games of the series with a 3-2 overtime win at home Mar. 2, followed by a 4-2 loss in Cambridge last Saturday night.
“It probably wasn’t our best game of the series, where I thought in game three and game four we really, really controlled the play and really dominated,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway of the game-five victory Wednesday.
Following the series-opening victory last week, the Kings rolled into Cambridge hoping to extend their lead to two games. However, Cambridge goalie Colin Furlong continued his strong play from the opening match, where he made 42 saves in the loss, and kicked aside 40 shots for a 4-2 win.
Elmira’s Brady Campbell scored in the first from Chris Zubac, and Andrew Smith scored a powerplay goal in the second from Wade Pfeffer and Lukas Baleshta.
In game three Mar. 6, however, the Kings finally solved Furlong and retook the lead in the series on home ice. They managed to score four goals before the end of the second period to chase Furlong from the Cambridge net en route to an 8-1 thrashing. Elmira went 6-for-12 on the powerplay, and Matt Smith made 19 saves in the win.
Eight different Kings scored in the win, led by Wade Pfeffer’s goal and two assists.
The Kings provided a repeat performance on Tuesday night on the road, once again chasing Furlong from the Cambridge net with five goals on 27 shots while coasting to a 6-3 win. Smith was solid in net, again making 19 saves.
Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, the Kings were looking to end the series quickly in order to give themselves plenty of time to rest up and heal before the start of the second round, and to avoid returning to Cambridge for game six.
Elmira got off to a sluggish start, however. The team was outplayed and outhustled throughout the entire period, which was marked by sloppy play and poor passing.
Fortunately, they held a 1-0 lead thanks to outstanding goaltending from Matt Smith, and a powerplay goal from Spencer MacCormack, assisted by Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Jordan Benton at 11:22 of the first.
“Give Cambridge a lot of credit, a lot of teams would have packed it in but I thought the first period was their best of the series,” said Haddaway following the win. “We got a little bit lucky to get that first goal, we probably didn’t deserve to be up 1-0, but good teams find a way sometimes, and tonight I thought we found a way.”
Elmira turned their game around once the second period was underway, with an early goal from Andrew Smith on the powerplay at 2:52 from Josh MacDonald and Josh Woolley. MacDonald used his speed to get to the outside and cut in front of the net, and Smith was right there on the doorstep to clean up the rebound and shovel it home for a 2-0 lead.
MacCormack continued his strong play in this postseason with his second goal of the night and fourth of the series at 17:41 thanks to some good work by Baleshta, who retained possession down low and spotted MacCormack all alone in the slot. MacCormack unleashed a wrist shot top corner to put the home team up 3-0 after 40 minutes.
In the third, however, Cambridge proved they would not go quietly into the night, scoring a quick powerplay goal just 1:37 in to give the team renewed life. However, in the end it was the Winter Hawks’ undisciplined play that led to their demise. The team racked up 58 minutes in penalties in the third period alone following their goal.
At one point there were seven Cambridge skaters in the penalty box at the same time, and Haddaway said that it was his team’s disciplined play that was one of the deciding factors in the series.
“You play four games in five nights, and nobody really understands except the guys in the room – it’s incredibly tough physically and mentally. Our guys are in great shape, and so it becomes a mental battle, and our guys showed a lot of resiliency and strength.”
Smith once again had a strong game in net, finishing the night with 33 saves.
“I don’t think Matt Smith was depended on a lot in this series, but when he was he came up big and kept us in there when we probably didn’t deserve it,” said Haddaway.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Kings’ success was their special teams. Elmira finished 12-for-47 with the man advantage (25.5 per cent) and scored at least one powerplay goal in every game. At the other end of the rink, the team only allowed three powerplay goals in 23 chances, an impressive 87 per cent, and never allowed more than one per game.
“Special teams were a huge factor for us,” the coach said. “Our guys take a lot of pride in it, and your best penalty killer is most often your goaltender, and he was good and gave our guys confidence to execute our game plan.”
In the end, the Kings had a deeper team than Cambridge, Haddaway said, adding that from here on in the Kings will no longer have that advantage, as the remaining squads in the playoffs are all deep as well.
For now, the Kings don’t know who they will play in the next round which begins next Wednesday, but that isn’t much of a concern for Haddaway and his coaching staff at the moment.
“Our job is to get ready, get a little bit of rest – there are always some bumps and bruises in the playoffs – and get prepared for the second round.”