|Photo credit: @PedersenMedia|
Donovan Neuls' goal just 14 seconds into overtime was the winner Friday night as the Seattle Thunderbirds knocked off the Regina Pats 2-1 in Game 1 of the WHL's Championship Series.
The series opener was a gritty, physical affair - typical of a playoff game this deep into the spring - and the first period was definitely a "get-acquainted" session since the two clubs hadn't seen each other since October 30.
The Pats outshot the Thunderbirds 11-8 in the opening 20 minutes Friday night, but the teams emerged from the frame in a 0-0 deadlock.
The game - and hopefully not the series - may have changed at the 3:27 mark of the second period when Seattle defenceman Turner Ottenbreit steamrolled Pats captain Adam Brooks coming over the Thunderbirds blueline. The hit left Brooks down on the ice for several moments and he left the game bloodied and woozy, and did not return.
Ottenbreit was assessed a a 2-minute minor for roughing, as was Pats forward Robbie Holmes after the ensuing skirmish. As far as I was concerned, Ottenbreit could've received a 5-minute major for interference but several won't agree. He didn't have the puck.
So with Brooks gone, the Thunderbirds opened the scoring on a powerplay goal from Ethan Bear at the 4:55 mark of the second period. They took that lead into the third.
While Seattle was clearly the aggressor in terms of physical play all night long, the Pats didn't back down and veteran defenceman Connor Hobbs tied the game on the powerplay at 12:11 of the third period.
Regina staved off a late swarm by the T-Birds in the final 90 seconds of regulation time and on they went to overtime.
Fans were barely back into their seats after the intermission when Neuls - a Grenfell, SK product - potted the game winner. An initial slapshot beat Tyler Brown under the crossbar and the goallight did not appear to go on.
But it didn't matter. The startled Pats couldn't secure the rebound and it was quickly tucked by Brown for the game-winner as Seattle's bench erupted and spilled onto the ice.
Regina outshot Seattle 32-26 in the contest while going 1/4 on the powerplay and 2/3 on the penalty kill.
Tyler Brown took the loss in the Regina goal after a 24-save outing while Seattle's Carl Stankowski notched the victory with a 32-save effort.
The attendance was the Pats' 25th sellout of the season at 6484.
Just like Game 1 of the Eastern Final - which the Pats lost 2-1 to visiting Lethbridge - there's no room to panic if you're the Regina Pats. They didn't play their best game against the T-Birds in the series lid-lifter and there's plenty of room for improvement.
They can stay out of the penalty box (they took back-to-back Delay of Game minors in the second period), they can play a lot more physical to match what Seattle's bringing, and that includes making it a lot tougher on Thunderbirds leader Mathew Barzal who collected a pair of assists Friday night. They could make life a lot more uncomfortable for rookie Seattle goalie Carl Stankowski as well.
In short, Seattle came into Regina and bullied the Pats out of their own rink. They knocked out their captain and roughed up their goalie.
Kudos to 'em.
Kudos to 'em.