It was an up and down week for the Elmira Sugar Kings, but despite some lackluster play and a number of injuries and suspensions to key players, the club is just a win away from reaching the Sutherland Cup finals.
After winning the first two games of the best of seven semi-final matchup with the LaSalle Vipers by scores of 7-2, the Kings dropped the next two, leading to a critical game five on home ice Wednesday evening.
“We obviously started out well in the first couple games and then we struggled a bit in the next two,” Sugar Kings outgoing director of hockey operations Keith Stewart said. “We’ve had some injuries and a couple of suspensions that haven’t helped us.”
He continued, “The big thing is that we’ve been short staffed. … We’re banged up a little bit, but you’ve got to win four games and I think the boys understand that.”
Reigning Midwestern Conference defenceman of the year Mac Clutsam was out for games two through five with an upper body injury and remains day-to-day, Stewart said.
Fellow blue liners Brodie Whitehead and Connor Hall also missed time due to suspensions, stretching the club’s back end thin.
The defensive woes were clear from the get-go in game three, as the Kings surrendered the first four goals of the contest during the opening period.
They clawed back, eventually getting to within two early in the third, but were unable to climb all the way out of the hole, falling 7-4 at the WMC April 12.
Two nights later they put up a better effort on the road, but couldn’t get the job done in overtime where LaSalle scored to take a 4-3 win, knotting the series up at 2-2.
That led to a pivotal fifth game at the WMC Wednesday night, where the Kings got back to the stingy defensive play that has propelled the club to success all season long, eking out a 2-1 victory.
Elmira got on the board early, as Steven Jakiela found the back of the net just 54 seconds into the game. Mitch Klie and Sam Harris got the assists.
They got a chance just moments later when Chad Herron was awarded a penalty shot, but he couldn’t beat Vipers netminder Paola Battisti.
LaSalle tied things up at the 7:26 mark in the third, but quickly surrendered the go ahead goal to Marselis Subban (Ethan Skinner and Alex Mutton).
Kings goalie Reinhart shut the door the rest of the way in a 27-save performance.
The win gives the Kings two shots at closing out the series. The first is Friday night in LaSalle, but if they fall, they’ll come back home Sunday night for game seven. If necessary, the puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the WMC.