by Shawn Mullin for www.swiftcurrentonline.com
The Swift Current Broncos have not been themselves so far in the WHL Eastern Conference Final.
That much was evident after back-to-back 5-1 losses in Lethbridge for Game 3 and 4 as the Hurricanes tied the series.
“To be honest I think we should be going home right now,” said Broncos goaltender Stuart Skinner. “I think Lethbridge should have swept us. The two last two games we got at home I think we got lucky… I just thank God we got those two games at home, otherwise we’d be going home right now. They deserved to win these two games… it’s our job to figure it out or we’re going to go home.”
The Broncos started taking penalties early and never managed to stay out of the box as Lethbridge went 4 for 10 on the man advantage. After saying confidently that they’d be better in Game 4, the Broncos were left looking for answers.
“We very uncharacteristically melted down tonight. I don’t have an answer for that right now. We’ll analyze it and talk about it later,” said Broncos Head Coach/Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros.
Normally after a tough loss in the playoffs Viveiros has been quick to say they need to have short memories and move on to the next game. This time he felt it was important for his team to remember how tonight’s game felt.
“We’ve got to remember how we looked tonight,” Viveiros said. “As a team I thought we embarrassed ourselves tonight. That’s not who we are. That’s not how we play. That’s enough motivation… we’ll be better. We’ll be better. It’s still 2-2. Tonight I’m not happy with how we presented ourselves.”
The two teams started out with a reasonably even start and not a lot of chances in the first five minutes. The Broncos got an early power play and were a bit static as the Hurricanes forced a shorthanded chance and Jadon Joseph put in the rebound of Taylor Ross’ shot.
That’s when the parade to the penalty box started. Swift Current took five penalties in the first period and gave up two goals in the process. Ultimately Lethbridge went 4 for 10 on their man advantage in the game.
“We came out flat,” said Broncos forward Tyler Steenbergen. “We took way too many penalties. We’ll regroup. We have the next two days off. We’ll figure things out and we’ll be fine on Saturday.”
Steenbergen led the Broncos to their best sequence of the game. Down 2-0 he struck with his 11th of the playoffs on a great shot and seemed to spark something in Swift Current.
The Broncos started driving the net and has three or four excellent chances that Logan Flodell denied before another penalty led to another Lethbridge power play goal and a 3-1 deficit after the first.
“We have to learn how to stay out of the box,” Steenbergen said. “That’s what’s killing us along with our power play. We’re being too perimeter and we’ve got to fix it in these next two days. Come Saturday we’ll be good to go.”
Lethbridge pulled away with power play goals from Calen Addison late in the second and midway through the third period.
Special teams was clearly a major problem for Swift Current as they were 60 per cent on the penalty kill while going 0 for 7 on their man advantage.
“We were terrible on both sides,” Viveiros said. “We have to do a much better job of executing penalty kill and our power play too. We’re just not firing on any cylinders at all.”
For Viveiros, the key to Lethbridge having success against them in the series has been very simple.
“Outworking us all over the ice,” Viveiros said. “It was evident last night and again tonight. Outworking us and winning battles. They’re making it tough to get to the net. We’re not going to those dirty areas that we normally do. We’re not playing the game we need to play.”
When asked about Skinner’s comments on how the series could have been a sweep, Hurricanes captain Jordy Bellerive took that as a sign the Broncos are feeling some doubt.
“It’s kind of exciting for us I think if they’re kind of down on themselves already,” Bellerive said. “When we went down 2-0 there was not a doubt in our mind we could come back home and win these two games. We stuck to the plan and we are where we are right now.”
The Broncos were again without defenceman Artyom Minulin and captain Glenn Gawdin for undisclosed issues. There is no update on when or if they could return to the lineup.
“They’re outstanding players for our hockey club,” Viveiros said. “That’s an opportunity for other kids to step up in increased ice time. As a group if we play together we’ll have an opportunity to give ourselves a chance to win, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win tonight.”
Another storyline in Lethbridge was the treatment of the former Hurricanes by fans. Giorgio Estephan was booed every time he touched the puck, while Skinner got the usual derisive chants reserved for opposing goaltenders. While Swift Current’s netminder has often said he enjoys that kind of crowd interaction in opposition rinks, it did seem to strike a nerve that it happened in a building where he and Estephan had played big parts in the team’s turnaround.
“I’m fine with it I like when fans get on me,” Skinner noted. “But I would have expected a little bit more respect from the fans. Especially after everything me and Giorgio did for them. It kind of shows you the type of respect they have for us and how fast things can change. I’m fine with it… I saw it coming a long way ago… I want to beat the fans now. I’m ready to go.”
He and the Broncos will have a chance to rebound with Game 5 slated for Saturday in Swift Current and Game 6 now set for Monday back in Lethbridge. Tickets for Game 5 go on sale Thursday at noon and season ticket holders have until Friday at 1pm to get their seats.