Let's Settle it in 7
Brett Thompson's first career playoff goals sends Erie to Game 7.
By ALEX SIBLEY
The key word around the Erie Otters' locker room these days is: 'Believe.'
In Western Conference Quarterfinal's against the Windsor Spitfires, they won Game 1, just to lose the next three games and make the remaining three games do-or-die situations.
After winning Game 6 Friday night in Windsor in overtime, the confidence crept back.
But after the opening period in Sunday afternoon's contest, Erie appeared to be a broken team on the verge of elimination as the Spits took a 3-0 lead.
The belief never left, as even with the early hole, all 20 skaters still thought they were in the game.
So when Brett Thompson scored his first career playoff goal 8 minutes, 51 seconds into overtime in front of the 4,059 at Tullio Arena, nobody in the Otters locker room was surprised as the Otters won 6-5 in dramatic fashion.
The goal also forced a Game 7 in Windsor Tuesday night.
The Otters were down 3-0 after one period of play in the most important game of the season. The majority of the crowd fans booed the Otters going into the first intermission.
The veteran group wasn't fazed by any of that.
"We didn't lose our confidence," said Thompson, who was acquired at the January trade deadline in exchange for David Broll. "We knew what we had to do in the next two periods."
After a first period where the Otters registered 30 shots but couldn't beat Windsor goalie Jack Campbell, Erie quickly turned a 3-0 deficit into a one-goal game as Anthony Luciani and Brett Cook scored 26 seconds apart to get the life not only back into the arena, but more importantly the team.
For Luciani, it was the first of his two goals in the game, giving the overage winger six goals and eight points in his last two outings.
"We're putting the pressure on (Windsor) every time we step on the ice," Luciani said. "That's been working well for us."
But as quick as the Otters got within one, the Spitfires restored the two-goal advantage as Stephen Johnston beat Erie goalie Ramis Sadikov for his fourth of the series.
That's something Windsor has done throughout this classic series – respond. In Game 4, Erie cut the lead to one on three different occasions, just to see the Spitfires answer right back.
But on this night, it would be Erie who would respond.
Luciani scored his second of the period with just over a minute remaining as he lifted a shot that Campbell got a piece of,but tricked on the pads before just crossing the goal line to make it 4-3 after two periods.
"They guys played hard, and they played with resiliency," coach Robbie Ftorek said. "We don't like the fact that we gave up three goals early, but the guys just kept coming back and coming back."
After Phil Varone ripped a shot past Campbell on the power play 6:49 into the third to tie the game, defenseman Derek Holden scored 4:07 later to give Erie its first lead of the game with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Varone now has three goals and 14 points in the series.
Both of the goals beat Campbell over the shoulder, something assistant coack Mike Nelson said the coaching staff has preached in practice.
"It's just muscle memory on where to put the puck," Varone said. "We just have to keep putting pucks on net. If you don't put pucks on net, they're not going to go in."
But as much as the Otters have played the never-say-die role through six games, Windsor, who has become the Otters archrival over the last two seasons, could very easily hold the same title.
They always seem to be one shot away. That was the case Sunday.
Adrian Robertson banged home a loose puck on the right side of the crease to knot the game at five and force the game into overtime for the third time in the series.
Again, it didn't seem to faze this veteran group, who at least in this series play better after facing adversity.
"Our spirits were still up," Luciani said. "Nobody was down and we knew we had to come out fighting."
Nine seconds into the OT session, Mike Cazzola had a chance to win it, but Campbell snared the puck the heading for the left side of the net with his glove. Campbell stopped 61 shots in the contest.
But the Otters 67th and final shot, Thompson's rocket over the shoulder, ended a game that had a combined 120 shots and 11 goals.
As much as the Otters celebrated, they know there is still one game left in the series. The biggest one of them all – the deciding Game 7.
The season now comes down to one game.
"We've won (at Windsor) twice already," Varone said. "There is no reason we can't do it again. We're going there to win."
Kitchener 2, Plymouth 0 (Series tied 3-3)
Saginaw 4, Guelph 3 (Saginaw leads series 3-2)
Owen Sound 6, London 0 (Owen Sound leads series 3-2)
Owen Sound 1, London 0 OT (Owen Sound wins series 4-2)
~Alex Sibley covers sports for the Erie Reader. You can contact him via e-mail at ASibley@Eriereader.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @ErieReaderSport.