Now it’s a best-of-three.
The Hamilton Bulldogs, frustrated by a hot goalie for most of the game, rallied to square their Ontario Hockey League final against the Windsor Spitfires with a well-deserved 3-2 overtime victory in front a sold-out crowd at Windsor’s WFCU Centre. The best-of-seven series to determine Ontario’s representative in the Memorial Cup is deadlocked at two wins each, with Game 5 set for Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre Sunday at 2 p.m.
Defenceman Gavin white scored the winner at 7:35 of the extra period for the Bulldogs, who had tied the game with two minutes left in the third period and goaltender Marco Costantini pulled for an extra attacker.
The teams hadn’t played in four days and both needed the rest, although the downtime likely benefitting Hamilton a little more because it gave Nathan Staios, the OHL’s top defenceman, a bit more time to recover from the injury that had kept him out since he was hit from behind in the second round against Mississauga. With captain Colton Kammerer out indefinitely, the Bulldogs’ defence — the backbone of their franchise record season — was constantly besieged by the Spits in Game 3 and visibly tired in the 6-3 loss.
Staios’s return energized the Bulldogs, but an uncanny performance by Windsor goalie Mathias Onuska, particularly in the second period, kept a relentless Hamilton attack from completely owning the game. So did a plethora of hit posts and shots which missed gaping holes. The Bulldogs owned a 44-22 advantage in shots.
Fittingly, though, it was Staios’ shot from the point with the goaltender pulled that found the net with two minutes left in regulation to force the second overtime of the series. The first, in Game 1, went Windsor’s way.
As they’ve done much of the series, the Spitfires found a tailwind as the game progressed, but Hamilton countered with a withering pressure that resulted in a massive 37-20 advantage in regulation-time shots. But shots and goals are two different statistics.
Hamilton led 1-0 after one period, killing off three penalties, and getting a couple of pivotal saves from goalie Marco Costantini.
Logan Morrison put the Bulldogs in front early with his 15th goal of the playoffs when he redirected a shot past Mathias Onuska, just as a Hamilton power play expired. Morrison, who has seven points in the four games, has at least a point in every playoff game he’s suited up for. He opened the scoring in Game 3, as well.
But Hamilton’s Jan Mysak and George Diaco took penalties early in the middle frame, to give Windsor a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. Those were the fourth Hamilton penalties in just under 10 minutes of play and while the Bulldogs killed off the tense 120 seconds, they lost rhythm and Josh Currie tied the game just a minute after the two Hamilton players returned to the ice.
Windsor captain Will Cuylle, who has seven points in the first four games, then squibbed a shot through Costantini’s legs to give the home side a 2-1 lead that Onuska preserved until nearly the end.
Hamilton outshot Windsor 16-7 in the second period but Onuska kept his team ahead with some brilliant saves, including thwarting breakaway by Hamilton star Mason McTavish, who was outstanding all night. Onuska also dived like an Oscar winner on a phantom goaltender interference call.
Hamilton appeared to tie the game with seven minutes to go but Ryan Humphrey’s goal was called back on goaltender interference against White. The officials took several minutes to confirm the ruling, which probably should have gone the other way.
The Bulldogs avoided dropping their first back-to-back games since the opening three days of December when Barrie and North Bay took them down. That was six months, and 63 games, ago.
After Sunday’s matinee, Game 6 will be right back in Windsor Monday night, and if a Game 7 is necessary, it’s set for Wednesday night at FirstOntario Centre. The winner advances to the Memorial Cup Tournament which begins Monday June 20 in Saint John, NB.
NOTES: Bulldogs president and GM Steve Staios was named the Jim Gregory OHL General Manager of the Year Award winner earlier this week.