The Kitchener Dutchmen built up an early lead in Junior B playoff action Sunday night, but the Elmira Sugar Kings showed them it’s a marathon, not a sprint, ultimately downing the Dutchmen 4-2.
The win was a key one for the Kings, who were down two games to none in the best-of-seven series after a 6-5 loss in Kitchener the night before.
“I think our guys were probably gripping their sticks tightly at the beginning, but as the game wore on, we settled into our style and fortunately we were successful,” said coach Geoff Haddaway.
In the match Feb. 28, Kitchener built up a three-goal lead in the first period, outshooting the Kings 16-4.
The second period was all about Elmira, however, as they claimed the lead with four unanswered goals. Kyle McNeil scored a pair of power play goals and Brent Freeman added another two, with assists going to Josh Ranalli, Jon Jutzi, McNeil, and Patrick Shantz.
The Dutchmen tied things at four apiece 40 seconds into the final frame. Kyle Blaney edged Elmira out in front again, but Shawn Bechtloff evened the game up before Kitchener’s Matt Murphy finished things off with the game-winning goal.
“We didn’t get off to a great start,” Haddaway said. “Their goals were good goals from their point of view, [we had] some breakdowns in our end. Once we got going in the second period, I thought we did well; we just came a little short.”
The Dutchmen arrived in Elmira for game three the following night, with a substantial number of Kitchener fans following them.
Blaney said the Kings tried to ignore any pressure in being down two games.
“We didn’t want to take the mentality that our backs were against the wall,” he said. “We just tried to stay comfortable, that it was game 3 and we were just having our first game at home.”
Kitchener scooped up the puck straight off the opening faceoff, peppering Williams with shots before DeJong scored just 36 seconds in.
The Kings steadied and answered back two minutes later. Ranalli rounded the net and backhanded the puck to the slot, where Freeman flicked it in.
Ranalli’s attempt to bat in a flying puck with an overhand swing a few minutes later missed the net. It was the Dutchmen that pulled ahead at 12:35, with Justin Knee putting one past Williams on a pass from Tony Blyde. The first period ended 2-1.
Philip Teri put paid to Kitchener’s lead 30 seconds into the second frame, scoring off the faceoff on a feed from Blaney and Michael Therrien.
The Kings moved out in front four minutes later; Freeman fed the puck to McNeil, who let a shot rip from the blueline and pasted it past keeper Matt Smith.
Kitchener battered away at the Kings’ lead in the second period and kept the crowd on the edge of their seats with several dangerous shots, but Williams dug in between the goalposts and kept everything out.
“Jake was really solid in net,” Haddaway said. “We don’t need our goaltending to win us games, we just need it to be solid and give us a chance to win, and that’s what he did.”
Zach Salomon clinched the victory at 6:06, snagging the puck on a Kitchener turnover and putting a wrist shot into the back of the net.
It was the third time in as many games that the Kings have had to come back from an early deficit.
“Getting off to a good start would be nice; we’ve sort of fallen behind in all three games,” Haddaway said. “It’s nice we can bounce back, but it puts you in a tougher spot, having to come back against a great team like Kitchener.”