(Hamilton leads, 2-1)
Through the first three games, the 2019 SHL Finals have a distinctive rhythm. There’s a fast-paced first period, in which the Anchorage Igloos and Hamilton Pistols fire shots by the bucketload but don’t score. The action settles down somewhat in the second and third, as the teams trade goals (with Anchorage drawing first blood) as well as near-misses. In the end, one team wins by a single goal; often, regulation isn’t enough to settle matters.
The venue shifted for Game 3 from Anchorage’s Arctic Circle Arena to Hamilton’s Gunpowder Armory. But the teams followed the familiar script, all the way to Eddie Costello’s overtime goal that gave the Pistols a 3-2 victory and a 2-1 series lead.
“We’re going toe-to-toe with the defending champs and we’re pulling out wins,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “That tells you a lot about the strength and fearlessness of the guys in this locker room.”
The fans at Gunpowder Armory are well-known for making a lot of noise, especially in the postseason. During the division series, the Hershey Bliss let the crowd noise get in their heads, and they went on to lose the series. The Igloos said that the racket wouldn’t bother them, and that proved to be true. They came out of the gate just as fast and trigger-happy as they had at home, outshooting the Pistols 17-13 in the first period. But Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen turned aside all of the Igloos attempts, just as Anchorage’s Ty Worthington did for the baker’s dozen of Hamilton shots.
Then came the second period, and the scoring began. Anchorage went a man to the good just 22 seconds into the period when Pistols D Hercules Mulligan sent the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. LW Les Collins proceeded to make the Pistols pay, firing a low hard shot that Koskinen couldn’t quite pick up.
Hamilton didn’t strike back quite as quickly as they had in earlier games. But just over four minutes after Collins’ tally, LW Jamie Campbell tied things up by netting a wraparound shot before Worthington could seal off the post. The Igloos had several opportunities to retake the lead courtesy of three Pistols penalties later in the period, but they couldn’t convert and the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
In each of the first two games, the Pistols scored quickly in the third period. This game followed that pattern, as C Calvin Frye put one in before the period was two minutes old, giving Hamilton its first lead of the game. The old building rattled as the fans roared, clapped, and stomped in salute of their heroes.
“Honestly, it felt like the whole place was going to shake itself apart,” said Igloos C Nile Bernard. “We could feel the movement on the bench, and I was kind of eyeing the rafters like, ‘Uh, guys, is it safe…?’”
Anchorage, though, didn’t let the deficit or the screaming fans or the rumbling arena bother them. They focused on keeping the Pistols from adding to their lead, while trying to win more zone time on offense. This effort paid off just before the midpoint of the period, as C Jake Frost received a perfect one-touch pass from RW Nicklas Ericsson and ripped home a shot before Koskinen could react, tying it up at 2 apiece.
“That top line of [Anchorage’s] is just sick,” said Mulligan. “You know they’re going to feed it to Frost if they can, but then they do and you can’t stop it. It’s a lot like Alex [Steven Alexander] and our top line that way.”
Anchorage took a couple of minor penalties in the back half of the third period, which gave Hamilton golden opportunities for a go-ahead goal. They nearly had one in the final minute of the game, when Alexander fired a shot that Worthington got a piece of but couldn’t stop completely. The puck trickled toward the goal line and nearly over it, but D Olaf Martinsson swooped in and whacked it away. The Pistols asked for a replay review, and it was determine that the puck had gone partway over the line but not completely. No goal, and on to overtime.
The extra session started out a bit slowly, as both teams looked a bit tired and sluggish. The action frequently bogged down in the neutral zone. But a little past the two-minute mark, RW Ben Summers slipped on a soft patch of ice while crossing over the red line and went down, losing control of the puck. Pistols D Raymond Smyth won a race to the puck, started down the ice, then found Costello.
The ex-Galaxy center was the overtime hero of the series-clinching Game 4 against Hershey, and he was ready to do it again. He skated hard toward the net, getting behind the defense. He deked a bit with the puck, trying to get Worthington out of position. Then he went shortside over Worthington’s outstretched stick for the game-winning goal.
“Easy Eddie does it again!” said Shields with a grin. “I love that guy. He’s knows how to get it done with style.”
Igloos coach Sam Castor was generally pleased with his team’s effort, even in a losing cause. “Every game in this series so far has basically been dead even,” Castor said.
The coach added, however, that he wanted to see his team win Game 4. “Getting back to even and getting the home-ice advantage back, that’s crucial,” Castor said. “I’m not calling it a must-win, but you don’t want to go down 3-1. We don’t want to be in that hole.”