(Series ties, 1-1)
This year’s SHL Finals are shaping up to be a heavyweight title fight. In Game 1, the champion Anchorage Igloos won on points, overcoming a flurry of jabs from the challenger Hamilton Pistols before landing a knockdown punch in overtime. In today’s Game 2, the challenger got up off the canvas and threw a haymaker at the champ, as the Pistols stole home-ice advantage with a series-tying come-from-behind 2-1 win.
“It’s a real series now!” crowed Pistols LW Steven Alexander after the win. “We’ve shown that we can win. History has its eyes on us!”
The early stages of this game strongly resembled Game 1. Both teams came out flying with a ton of energy, and the first period was once again a shooting gallery, with Anchorage firing 17 shots on net and Hamilton taking 14. Just like yesterday, though, both goalies withstood the barrage, and the period ended in a scoreless tie. And just like yesterday, Igloos coach Sam Castor admonished his team between period to slow the tempo a bit.
“We’ve been coming out a bit hot in these games,” said Castor. “I told them to play within themselves, and not to let the game get out of control.
Anchorage once again heeded their coach’s instructions, and the game’s pace cooled in the second. The Igloos spent a considerable amount of time on the penalty kill in the first half of the period thanks to back-to-back infractions by D Olaf Martinsson and LW Waldo Miranda, but they successfully squelched the Pistols’ power play both times.
Later in the period, Hamilton went a man down as RW Kenny Patterson served a double minor for spearing. The Igloos took advantage, as RW Nicklas Ericsson picked off a failed Hamilton clearing attempt and fed D Rudolf Kerasov, who fired a slapshot that deflected off the stick of a Pistols player and into the net. Just as in Game 1, the Igloos struck first… and the champs assumed that meant another win was on the way.
“I think we got a little complacent,” admitted C Jake Frost. “We felt like, when push came to shove, we’d take care of business.”
In another Game 1 parallel, the Pistols answered the Igloos’ opening goal with one of their own. With three minutes left in the second, Alexander fired a slapshot that ticked off the blocker of Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington and bounced off the crossbar before going in.
If this game was going to follow the Game 1 script, the Igloos would need to regain the lead before the end of the second. They couldn’t get a sustained attack going before the horn sounded, though, and the game remained deadlocked after forty minutes.
Going into the third, the Pistols felt a rising confidence. “We felt like if we could strike quickly, we could put [the Igloos] on the defensive for a change,” said RW Claude Lafayette. “If we could grab the momentum, we felt like we’d win it.”
Hamilton got the quick strike they were looking for, as just 37 seconds into the final stanza, C Calvin Frye beat Worthington with a low liner between the pads. That gave the Pistols their first lead of the series, and put Anchorage on their heels.
The home team didn’t help their cause when they took three minor penalties in roughly a two-minute span. The Igloos killed off those penalties successfully, though, and looked to capitalize on the momentum shift. Unfortunately for them, though, Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen was playing at his best, sealing the posts and denying the Igloos’ best shots.
RW Ben Summers thought he had the tying goal when he caught Koskinen out of position and fired at a wide-open net, but the Finnish netminder flicked out his stick and knocked the blast aside. Frost also thought he’d even things up when he got loose on a breakaway and fired a high shot, but Koskinen stopped him with a brilliant glove save that left the center staring at the rafters.
“I have to tip my cap to Lasse,” said Frost. “He really stood on his head today.”
Pistols coach Keith Shields lavished praise on his goalie, who stopped 38 shots in today’s game. “Lasse’s saved our bacon plenty of times this season, and he did it again today. Thank God we’ve got him on our side.”
The series now shifts to Hamilton’s famously noisy Gunpowder Armory for the next three games. The din has been known to rattle visiting teams, but Castor isn’t worried. “Our guys have the experience, and they’re got to let a noisy crowd shake them,” said the Igloos coach.
Castor does have a concern, however: he wants his team to cut down on the penalties. Anchorage has committed 13 infractions in the first two games. “When we spend that much time in the penalty box, we’re playing with one hand tied behind our back,” said Castor. “It’s sloppy, and Hamilton’s too good for us to give them advantages like that.”