With the AJHL’s North Division final tied at two games apiece, the series shifted back to Sherwood Park for game five.
To some extent, the Spruce Grove Saints had their backs against the wall in games three and four. If they would have lost one of those games, they would have been playing for their lives tonight. Instead, they have some wiggle room.
For the Crusaders, they should have some desperation in their game. While a loss wouldn’t end their season, they will have to go into Grant Fuhr Arena on Sunday for a must-win game six. That’s far from ideal.
One thing working in the Crusaders favour tonight: the home team has won every single game in this series. They were looking to keep that trend going in front of a near capacity crowd at the Sherwood Park Arena. Here’s how things went down:
The Crusaders came out flying in front of their home crowd and were no doubt the better team through the first nine minutes, holding a 5-1 advantage on the shot clock. Momentum changed when Arjun Atwal was called on a ticky-tack hooking infraction. That was especially frustrating for the home side considering the officials missed a too many men on the ice call on the Saints just minutes earlier.
The Saints capitalized on the powerplay with Nick Leyer jamming a rebound just over the goal line.
The Crusaders kept pushing, but that first goal also woke up the Saints a little. The two teams grinded out the rest of the first period without too many great chances. The Cru missed on a powerplay opportunity as well.
The Saints held onto their 1-0 lead for the rest of the period, but things were pretty tight. The Crusaders generated ten shots on goal, as did the Saints, but Sherwood Park didn’t have too many looks that made me hold my breath. A solid first 20, but it was far from a perfect opening period for the Cru.
The Saints came out and took over the game. They were pouring on chances early and managed to jump out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Cole Basnett. Up 2-0, the Saints registered eight of the period first nine shots on goal.
The Crusaders started to turn things around when Carter Savoie was hauled down on a partial breakaway and got the Crusaders their first powerplay of the game. They actually started generating some dangerous looks but they were either blocked or stopped by Matt Davis, who looked busy but actually only had to stop six shots in the period.
I mentioned this week on Inside The Cru that when things started going bad in games three and four, Sherwood Park never had anyone step up with a real momentum changing shift. Tonight, I thought Arjun Atwal did his absolute best to change his team’s fortunes. In the second period, he ripped down the wing, generated a scoring chance, and then immediately drew a penalty.
It looked like that moment was going to change the game, but the Cru came up very flat on the powerplay. It was straight up unacceptable to bungle another great opportunity like that.
The home side generated a few good looks late in the period but trailed 2-0 heading into the room.
With a massive third period looming, the Saints come out and struck first with a powerplay goal just over three minutes into the period. All of the sudden things were looking very bleak for the Crusaders.
They got a chance on the powerplay with 12 minutes to go, but once again they were only able to generate one good look with the man advantage. That’s not good enough in a big playoff game. Their powerplay finished the game 0-for-4. They had a handful of chances to get back into this game and their powerplay let them down.
Nick Leyer would bat another one home with nine minutes to go, making it 4-0 Saints. That was the final nail in the coffin. The teams would exchange goals late in the period, Brandon Wallis fired home a shorthanded goal with just seconds remaining in the game, and the horn would sound. 5-1 the final.
These two teams played out the final few minutes and the game ended with the Saints holding onto their lead. They’ll have a chance to advance to yet another AJHL Final on Sunday when they host game six of this series. For the Cru, they need to find another gear. They look like the weaker team right now. It’s not over, and they need to recognize that. They have beaten the Saints a few times this year and twice in a row earlier in this series. They need to lean on that to give them the confidence to come from behind and take this series.
- Michael Benning has just been tremendous this series. I thought he was the best player in game three and tonight he was one of the most impactful players. He’s so patient in his own end and knows when to just get rid of the puck and when to hold onto it and jump into the rush. Rare qualities for a young defenseman. He had some rough moments, but I liked his game.
- Michael Bentz was solid as well. He was blocking shots and making smart pinches all night. A very good night from a player who the team needed to step up with the absence of Reid Irwin. Brennan McDonnell was very solid as well, I liked the way he played considering his elevated role.
- A big thumbs up to Robert Clark, the Oilers anthem singer, handling tonights “Oh Canada”. That really set the mood for a big playoff game. The crowd was great tonight, just a shame the Crusaders couldn’t give them more to cheer for.
- They needed to turn more of their shots into scoring chances if that makes any sense. They put pucks on net, but Matt Davis doesn’t get beat by just good chances, you need true “Grade A” looks to beat the Saints goaltender and I thought the Crusaders didn’t get enough dangerous looks at him.
- Their powerplay got a few good looks, but it blew some great chances throughout the game. That could have cut their deficit to one and changed the entire game in the second period. Not scoring is one thing, but they rarely got any good looks.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders will put their season on the line Sunday night in Spruce Grove. Puck drop goes just after 7 pm. They haven’t won in three games and given how strong the Saints look, they might need to play their best game of the season if they want to force a seventh game.