The Elmira Sugar Kings are back to square one in their series against Kitchener, after winning their second straight game at home 5-4 against the Dutchmen Wednesday night.
Now tied at two games apiece, the series heads to Kitchener tonight (Saturday) and then returns to Elmira for game six tomorrow.
“For us to come home down two games and win two against such a talented team, it’s a big boost for our guys,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway after the game. “The pressure’s on [Kitchener], for sure, as the favourites.”
Once again, the Kings fought their way back into the game after Kitchener built up an early lead.
At 9:52, with Jeff Zippel in the box for interference, Kitchener’s Collin Carwardine fed a pass to the centre, where Todd Martin had a clear shot on goal and blasted it in.
With 43 seconds remaining in the first, Matthew DeJong put away another power play goal to give the Dutchmen a two-goal lead as the teams headed to the dressing rooms.
The Kings blasted their way onto the scoreboard 25 seconds into the second period. Kyle McNeil hammered the puck into the net on an assist from Brent Freeman and Josh Ranalli.
A few minutes later, Elmira tied things up with a shorthanded goal. Zippel fed the puck up the centre to Tyler Kuntz, who carried it in on net and coolly flicked it past keeper Matt Smith.
At 7:53, Smith gave up a big rebound on a shot from Ranalli and Freeman pounded it home to give the Kings a 3-2 lead.
Elmira widened the lead on a power play early in the third. McNeil knocked in a rebound on a shot from Patrick Shantz for his second of the game, making it 4-2. At that point, the Dutchmen pulled Smith and sent in Jordan Bowes.
But the Dutchmen weren’t going home without a fight. A pair of power play goals from Jordan Hardy and Tony Blyde a few minutes apart, and the game was tied at four midway through the third period.
With six and a half minutes to go, Freeman won a faceoff in Kitchener’s zone and fed it to McNeil, who put it away for the game-winning goal and a hat trick.
“We struggled on draws all night,” Haddaway said. “Brent goes down and wins a draw clean, and Kyle buries it. Kyle’s job is to score goals, and he’s doing that.”
Having given up all four goals against them on power plays, Haddaway said the team will be working on its penalty killing.
“I thought for the most part we did a good job penalty killing, but you have one little lapse against these guys and they score. They’re so talented, they’re so skilled, we just can’t let our guard down at all. If we do, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Around the league, Waterloo took out Cambridge in four straight games, and Brantford eliminated Guelph in four, outscoring the Dominators 33 to 6.
The winner of the Kitchener-Elmira series will face Waterloo in the semi-finals.
Haddaway was happy to see a good-sized crowd in the stands Wednesday night and is hoping for a bigger, louder crowd when the Kings return for game six tomorrow.
“It’s more intimidating place to play, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I’ve been in here as a visitor, it’s no fun when the crowd is loud.”