It took two extra periods but the Portage Terriers sent their fans home happy last night in their playoff opener. The Dogs defeated the Niverville Nighthawks 5-4 in double overtime and now have a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Nighthawks entered this game as the only playoff team with more losses than wins but they sure didn't act like it. Niverville opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game as Josh Paulhus skated down to the top of the circle and sniped a shot high on the blocker side, and beat Terrier goalie Bailey Monteith.
The Niverville faithfuls were brought back to earth just two minutes later when Kian Calder made the defenceman-to-defenceman pass to Hayden Lacquette. Lacquette quickly shifted his momentum toward the centre of the ice, getting past a defender. He got to the slot and ripped a shot low on the glove side to tie the game.
Still in the first five minutes, Brett Tataryn chipped the puck past Matt McLeod and created a 2-on-1 for Niverville. Once he crosses the blue line, Tataryn passed the puck up ahead to Brendan Bottem, who got it on net but Monteith slammed the door shut.
Near the halfway point in the first, Slade Stanick took a high stick that drew blood, resulting in a four-minute power-play for Portage. Early in the man-advantage opportunity, Mike Stubbs took a shot in tight and was denied. He chased his own rebound across the zone, located the puck, waited, and fired a shot between the pads of Chris Fines.
This brought the score to 2-1 Terriers, which is how it would remain for the rest of the period.
Brenden Holba got things rolling in the second as he poked the puck ahead in the neutral zone and generated a 2-on-1 rush. Holba decided to take the shot himself, near the top of the circle but was robbed by the glove of Fines.
30 seconds later, from almost the exact same spot, Lacquette took a shot through heavy traffic and beat Fines low for the second time in the contest. 3-1 Portage.
It was a scary sight later in the second. Terrier forward Gavin Klaassen was carried off in a stretcher after taking a hit from behind from Bryce Warkentine, who was tossed from the game. Klaassen was transported to the hospital but it is believed that he will be okay, according to members of the Terriers organization.
Unfortunately for Portage, they were not the ones to capitalize on the ensuing power-play. Braden Panzer got the puck behind the Portage defence and made the pass across to Paulhus in a 2-on-0. Paulhus made no mistake, picked up his second goal of the night, and trimmed the lead down to one. 3-2 Portage after 40 minutes.
The action ramped back up midway through the third as Panzer found himself behind the Terriers' defence again. He fired a shot near the faceoff dot. It was stopped but he got his own rebound. He was denied again. Paulhus was there for the third chance, in tight. Monteith sprawled out to make the miraculous glove save, receiving an ovation from the Terrier fans.
A few seconds later, Tayem Gislason made a spin move to get past a fore-checking Nighthawk before making a long pass ahead to Lacquette. He did a toe-drag move toward the middle as he entered the zone, before ripping a shot high on the blocker side to send a couple of hats onto the ice.
Hayden Lacquette makes the hats fly at Stride Place 🧢🧢— PortageOnline (@PortageOnline_) March 25, 2023
Terriers and Nighthawks tied 4-4. Game 1 is heading to overtime. pic.twitter.com/y99WaqEALZ
With just over five minutes to go in the game, Niverville was on the power-play. Panzer skated down the boards and made a centring pass close to the goalie crease. Gavin Gunderson just tapped the puck ahead and managed to squeak it through the pads of Monteith. The lead was back down to one goal.
There were two minutes to go in regulation. Monteith stretched out to make a save and did exactly that, however, he lost his stick in the process. Niverville was able to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Evan Bortis took a shot in the slot that was stopped but Panzer was there for the rebound and tied the game 4-4.
While there were a few chances on both sides in the final minutes, nothing was resolved, and the playoff opener was headed to overtime.
The Terriers came into the extra frame ready to go. Just one minute in, Austin Peters was knocked off the puck entering the offensive zone. Ryan Botterill was there to scoop it up and slide it across to Austin McLean, who was alone in front. He glided to the left as he waited the extra second on what seemed like it would be the game-winner but Fines made one of his best saves of the night, sticking out his shoulder to keep the Nighthawks alive.
A few minutes later, Brock MacDonald had the puck in the corner and made a centring pass for Gislason. He ripped a shot that sounded like it went off the crossbar but Gislason was convinced it found the back of the net. The referees didn't see it that way and after a few more close calls on both ends, these two teams headed back to the locker room to prepare for period five.
It didn't take long for things to be resolved in the second overtime, as Mike Stubbs' scored his second of the game just 46 seconds in.
"Gis(Tayem Gislason) walked across the line. We had a hard net drive, so that opened up some space," Stubbs explains. "That gave me an extra second to take that shot. It was perfect."
Stride Place erupted after the Stubbs goal, and the Terriers will head to Niverville tonight with a 1-0 series lead.
Defenceman Hayden Lacquette picked up his first hat-trick at the junior level in his first playoff game at the junior level. He says the feeling was unreal and notes he's never played in a building as loud as Stride Place was for Game 1.
The game-winning goal scorer, Stubbs, describes what they'll have to do to make it a 2-0 series tonight.
"It's the first playoff game for that team in their own rink. We know we're going to go there, and we're going to hear it," Stubbs continues. "We just have to feed off the crowd. There's nothing better than playing playoff hockey. We're just going to go in there and try and come out up 2-0."
Game 2 in this best-of-seven first-round series goes down tonight in Niverville at 7:30.