The Battlefords North Stars got a late game winner from MVP Blake Tatchell and avoided elimination on home ice last night. They will now play a game 5 tomorrow night in Humboldt.
It wasn’t the best the Stars could play but it was a big step in the right direction. I still think the Stars have another gear or two but it was nice to see them step up the physical play last night and get back to a North Star style hockey game. Graham Hildebrand got the start in net and was excellent making 22 saves and picking up an assist in the win.
The first period was a very even period with both teams going o for 1 on the power play and firing 9 shots on goal. The Stars started with Wakelin, Schwab and Newton who had a very good shift to open the game and set the tone nicely. They had a number of those momentum buidling type of shifts throughout the game. The penalties didn’t come until late in the frame and the Broncos first power play actually wrapped around into the second period. It was the Stars who opened the scoring when Brett Miller and Blake Tatchell combined to get the puck to a speedy Jordan Ethier. He raced down the right wing and used his speed to beat his man wide and get to the front of the net. It’s something the Stars need to do a lot more of in this series. Too many times they get to a good spot and instead of turning the corner to go to the net they head in deep or the puck gets knocked away. Ethier did a great job and was rewarded with his first goal of the playoffs 4:04 into the first period.
The Broncos tied it up midway through the frame when John Lawrence set up Robbie Ciolfi out front and he scored easily. It was his 12th of the playoffs. That kid has been amazing and baring something strange happening looks likely to lead the league in playoffs scoring again. It was unfortunate that Boyd Wakelin was the one who turned the puck over leading to that goal because I thought otherwise he had a great game. On the breakout Wakes skated in behind the net and picked up the puck. As he was swopping up the wing he dropped the puck off for Mitch Berg but it was Lawrence who was on hand to steal the puck and set up the goal.
Lawrence had a great chance himself not long after that but he fired his one timer wide. He was in a great position and Graham Hildebrand was doing the splits trying to go post to post and the puck slid underneath the Stars goalie through his 5 hole and out the other side. It was a let off for the Stars.
The physical play and hitting was more noticeable than previous games in the series and I thought Brett Miller was heavily involved all night and certainly in the first period. He took a couple big hits and dished a couple big hits as well. One collision with Andrew Herle was particularly hefty and I was glad to see both guys were okay. The Stars got a late first period power play when Boyd Wakelin was hit from behind by Taylor Johnson. The Stars were hoping for more but they did get a 2 minute power play that was unable to get much going. Late in the frame with Andrew Herle in behind the net of Graham Hildebrand Matt Sheeran got a cross checking penalty when he hit Herle. The Bronco forward went down easily on the play but I don’t mean to suggest he took a dive. I think he just wanted an excuse to flop down on the puck and waste the last few seconds of the period. Sheeran ended up with a penalty that was hard to argue against.
There was no scoring in the second period but lots of stuff was going on. The Stars killed that early Humboldt man advantage and then drew a tripping call on Adam Antkowiak, his first of the game and the second one was a big one, but were unable to score. During that power play Woody Klassen took a stick up high and was leaking blood all over the place. In the high slot, in the neutral zone, and on the bench. The evidence of the missed call was everywhere. The Stars should have had a 5 on 3 and it should have been a double minor. The second period was when the Stars really started to take over a little more and the shots at one point were 13-3 in their favour. But by the end of the period they were much closer. That was because the Stars got in penalty trouble. Braeden Johnson took an interference call off an attacking zone face off that freed up Woody Klassen in all kinds of space. Johnny didn’t complain as he made his way off the ice. Graham Hildebrand made a couple nice saves to help that PK but after one of those saves Tanner Quinn didn’t like the way the Broncos were whacking away for loose pucks and he came in and hammered one of them down to the ice, it might have been Herle, and took a roughing call. That penalty overlapped with Johnson’s penalty by 17 seconds. The Stars killed that 5 on 3 time off and then after Johnson returned Hildebrand made 2 more good saves including one with the blocker to keep the score tied.
Just 10 seconds after Quinn returned the Stars were short handed again. Travis Sparrow looked like he was going to step up and hit Taylor Johnson in the neutral zone in front of the Bronco bench but then pulled up when Johnson missed the puck. It then looked to me like the Bronco forward kind of skated into Sparrow and went down holding his face. The Refs initially called an elbow but then changed it to a hit to the head and gave the Stars captain 2 and 10. I was on the other side of the ice from the point of contact and I haven’t seen a replay, I usually only see the replays when we are on the road as I watch Kevin break down the game tape, so I don’t know if there was an elbow involved or not. The hit was on the other side of Sparrow’s body from my vantage point and I couldn’t see it. Plus as I have said recently these things happen so fast. I think the size difference was a factor in Johnson going down so heavily. None the less the Stars managed to kill of that power play for the Broncos as well. By this time all the PK work was getting the fans fired up, as were some of the calls, and it felt like the Stars had a lot of momentum heading to the third.
I wasn’t expecting the Stars to come out guns blazing in search of a game winning goal and they didn’t. They want to keep things tight against this Bronco team and win the low scoring, grind it out type of game. So they kept at that style in the third. They ended up limiting the Broncos to just 4 shots in the final frame. The Stars also felt like the Refs owed them a couple calls and they got those as well. Andrew Herle took a roughing call that he didn’t like at all about midway through the period but the Stars couldn’t capitalize. Later in the period with about 6 minutes left Kyle Hall’s speed drew a hooking call on Jonathan Parisien. With the big Quebec native in the box the Stars speedy forward got some PP time and Hall drew another penalty with his speed. It was a tripping call against Adam Antkowiak as he stuck his stick right into Hall’s skates as he blew by the big Bronco forward. The Stars were struggling a little to create chances and it looked like the Broncos were going to get away with the penalties and kill off the 5 on 3 power play when Blake Tatchell stood up. He took the puck at the top of the face off circle to the goalies right and blasted a slap shot by the blocker. Woody Klassen picked up the assist and the Stars were in front with a little under 6 minutes to go.
Once again the D was outstanding as the Broncos weren’t able to get many pucks through towards Hildebrand and the Broncos were forced to pull their goalie for the extra attacked. Brett Miller just wanted a whistle as the Broncos were buzzing with that extra skater and so Miller decided despite the fact that he would have to stay out for a face off he would ice the puck and get a chance to reorganize the Stars D zone coverage. But it didn’t work out that way as Miller’s shoot in found it’s way into the back of the net. It got up on end and rolled perfectly right into the middle of the goal. That made it 3-1 and pretty much sealed the victory for the Stars.
I thought every line contributed in their own way last night and guys played their roles perfectly. They limited the Broncos shots and chances and played North Stars style defense first hockey. But I still think they can play even better. They can still go to another level. This is a very good hockey team that played a very good game. In order to win again on Friday on the road in Humboldt I think it will take a great game to avoid elimination. Not just a good one. But the Stars are more than capable of winning in that barn they’ve done it a couple times this season and they are very good with their backs against the wall. The Stars are now 4-0 when facing elimination so far in these playoffs.