By Ryan McCracken on April 12, 2017.
The Medicine Hat Tigers are officially on their heels.
Lethbridge Hurricanes forwards Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan both scored in the third period to steal away the lead while Stuart Skinner stopped 36 shots to deal Medicine Hat a 5-2 loss and a 2-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
It was the second night in a row that Lethbridge rallied back from a 2-0 deficit, and marks the first time this post-season that Medicine Hat finds itself trailing in a series.
“We have to embrace this situation and believe in ourselves,” said Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston. “We knew we were going to have to win a game in this building and nothing has changed.”
It took a while for the Tigers to gain traction in the enemy barn, but James Hamblin ultimately kept Medicine Hat’s streak of scoring first intact midway through the opening frame.
The 17-year-old centre kicked a rebound past Skinner to ignite the pockets of Tigers support in an announced crowd of 4,563. While the goal was reviewed to determine where Hamblin’s skate made contact with the puck — as kicking a puck in is allowed in the WHL rulebook, but kicking a puck in the crease is not —it was confirmed as Medicine Hat’s seventh straight opening marker.
The Tigers were forced to learn on goaltender Michael Bullion a number of times in the opening frame, with a handful of a turnovers and defensive lapses leading to prime scoring opportunities. While Bullion turned aside every one in the opening frame, Lethbridge continually chipped away before breaking through in the second.
“We were playing a little scared and nervous out there with the lead,” said Tigers forward Chad Butcher. “We’ve just got to let it all go and have fun out there, play like we know we can.”
While Mark Rassell gave Bullion some added goal support midway through the second period — fooling Skinner with a low shot from the high circle to double up on Medicine Hat’s lead —the Hurricanes found their window a few minutes later.
While Lethbridge failed to capitalize on the game’s first power play, with Kristians Rubins in the box for interference, they used the momentum gained through the man advantage to produce Jordy Bellerive’s third of the post-season.
The troubles continued for Medicine Hat a few minutes later when Mason Shaw was shown the penalty box for catching Tyler Wong with a high stick — and this time the Hurricanes cashed in.
Estephan made quick work of the man advantage, beating Bullion clean from the face-off dot to rally back from a 2-0 deficit for the second game in a row and bring the packed house at the Enmax Centre to their feet.
“We definitely bounced back, kind of like we did last game,” said Estephan. “It was definitely a good team performance and I’m happy with how we finished the game, locking it down and showing that we can play with the lead.”
In a strikingly similar fashion to Saturday, the Hurricanes took over the contest on a third-period power play with Zach Fischer in the box for slashing. While Fischer didn’t commit Saturday’s penalty — a bench minor for too many men on the ice —both led to go-ahead goals for Lethbridge, and both stood up as eventual game-winners.
“We responded well on special teams,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “The key moments in the game, we talked about how we’ve got to seize those moments and I think right now we are.”
Wong was credited with his seventh goal of the playoffs on the marker, driving the net as the trailing forward and batting a rebound past Bullion.
While Medicine Hat pressed for an equalizer, Estephan pushed the game out of striking distance with his second of the night a few minutes later.
Matt Bradley had a golden opportunity to put the Tigers back in the game, but fired a rebound over the empty net before Brennan Menell sealed the game with an empty-netter.
“We’ve got to be able to find a little more consistency. I thought the start of our third was real strong, our mindset was closer to where it was in Game 1,” said Clouston. “We’ve got to establish that game and play it more consistently throughout the game.”
Bullion finished the night with 26 saves before settling for his second career playoff loss. The Tigers and Hurricanes meet back up at the Enmax Centre Wednesday to drop the puck on Game 4 at 7 p.m.
“It all comes down to tomorrow,” said Rassell. “Being 2-2 looks a lot better than 3-1 down, so it all starts with a quick turnaround — not worrying too much about tonight, learning from our mistakes and coming ready tomorrow.”
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