It’s series on, after the Centennials hung on to beat West Kelowna 4-3 in game three on Monday.
This was a rough and hard-fought playoff game, but perhaps that little bit more by the Cents.
The Warriors got the first powerplay, but it only lasted 39 seconds. Then Merritt got a 4-on-3, which turned into a (1:21) 5-on-3. Then Merritt got another. Then Merritt got another. Then the Warriors got a major PP when Payton Shaeffer caught Braxton Bilous in the neck. Yet (somehow) after the first period, game three remained scoreless.
Both teams had missed great opportunities in the opening stanza, but I would certainly suggest that the hosts had forced the issue in the first, and Tyler Briggs was probably the biggest reason it was still 0-0 after 20.
However, the foul play and penalty glut continued in the second, and Merritt took advantage. The Cents opened the scoring when Regan Soquila was left all alone in front 2:40 into the frame. Less than a minute later, a Derek Huisman blast from the high slot eluded Briggs (who may have been screened) making it 2-0.
West Kelowna clawed one back when Ambrose Firkus managed to squeeze one between Tyler Steel’s right pad and the post after a wonderful setup from Mat Berry.
Merritt retook the two-goal lead when a Dylan Chanter point shot found its way through, making the Centennials 3/3 on the powerplay in the second period (they finished at 3/9 on the game).
A deft deflection by Marcus Basara on a Josh Monk slap-pass gave the Warriors a PPG of their own late in the frame, making it 3-2 Merritt heading to the third.
The Warriors had their best period in the third, and I thought did a good job of generating more pressure and opportunities. Having said that, Brent Gough admitted on our post-game show that the Warriors didn’t do a good enough job of getting to the net in the game, and it’s something I had certainly been noticing. Tyler Steel had a good night, but wasn’t troubled enough overall. Without question, Merritt also deserves a lot of credit for effectively blocking shooting lanes and boxing-out around Steel all night.
Danny Gayle would score a greasy one to tie things up midway through the third, when he somehow converted a scramble after a Seb Lloyd effort.
But just 1:16 later, Merritt would go ahead for good when a puck bounced from behind the net right to Jeff Wight. Wight was absolutely robbed by Briggs on his first bid, but had no problem shovelling home his own rebound. And credit the Cents – they did a great job of clogging up all three zones for the rest of the game, as they hung on to beat the Warriors for the first time all year.
Special teams were obviously a big part of this game, and while the winner was 5-on-5, the Cents definitely did a better job than West K on the PP all night.
I thought both goalies were excellent in this one. Briggs made all kinds of timely saves to keep the Warriors alive, while Steel did his job admirably. At the end of the day, a well-executed game plan, success on special teams, and a couple of lucky bounces allowed Merritt to win this one. But the Cents were a deserving team, and dug deep in front of a supportive crowd to stay alive in the series.
Game four brings another chance for the Warriors to take a stranglehold, and another chance for Merritt to fight back. The fourth game is always pivotal in a best-of-seven, and I would be hugely surprised if Tuesday’s affair is any less physical – or any less close – than game three was.
Mat Berry gave me a candid interview after Monday’s game. Listen to that here.
And don’t miss game four. This is getting good…