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Eskimos triple Crunch to take Game 5

COCHRANE - Disco may be dead, but he Abitibi Eskimos are not.

In fact, if the Eskimos were cranking up the volume to the Bee Gees hit Stayin’ Alive during their bus ride back to Iroquois Falls following their 6-2 win over the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night that genre of music might have a pulse, as well.

Trailing their best-of-seven NOJHL East Division semifinal series 3-1, the Eskimos spotted their hosts a 1-0 advantage but stormed back to score five-straight goals and force Game 6 back at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.

Could another Bee Gees hit, Saturday Night Fever, be added to the play list, as well?

“The atmosphere, even in practice yesterday (Thursday), the kids were saying ‘we don’t have our backs against the wall, let’s go play our game,’” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.

“Let’s make things happen. Let’s work hard and stick to what we do best.

“Tonight we were moving our legs, especially in the first period. We were jumping on that puck. We were all over. We were jumping on the puck and getting some power plays because of it and you know what it carried through.

“The next thing you know, we get a couple of goals here and there and that was all she wrote for this game.”

Daniel Stagg’s power-play goal — his fourth-straight goal in the series — gave the Crunch a 1-0 lead just 4:38 into the first period.

That would turn out to be the only goal the Eskimos’ red-hot goalie Chet Tooker would surrender to the Crunch on the night.

Yes, the score was 6-2, not 6-1, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Tooker made 16 first-period saves — many of them spectacular — to keep the Crunch from building upon their lead and then at the 7:58 mark of the opening frame Brenden Locke scored the first of his three goals on the night, on the power play, to tie things up at 1-1 heading into the first intermission.

“He was great with his rebounds tonight,” Gagne said.

“You saw the rebounds go into the corner to his left, to his right. I can’t recall too many times when the rebounds were in front of him. When they were, he got his glove on them.”

The Eskimos scored four-straight goals in the second period to take the lead and then build upon it, with two of those markers coming off the stick of Locke, while the other two were scored by rookie Kyle Levis.

Locke and the other members of the Eskimos’ Killer Bs line — Brady Clouthier and Brennan Roy got the bounces Friday night that had eluded them somewhat during Wednesday’s 4-1 loss.

“We had a conversation before the game and even Locke said ‘you know, we didn’t capitalize on our chances,’ but I told him he would tonight,” Gagne said.

“If you are not having chances, then you should doubt yourself. But they were getting their chances and there was no reason to doubt themselves and they did not double themselves.

“They got their chances again tonight and tonight they capitalized.”

Putting the puck in the net is nothing new for Locke, who now has seven goals in the playoffs after potting 41 during the regular season.

“We didn’t dwell on it when they got the first goal,” he said.

“We just kept playing and got on pucks first and that is the reason we won this game.

“Guys were sacrificing themselves today, blocking shots, getting shots on net and doing the little things.”

Staying patient and waiting for the breaks, according to Locke, is one of the keys to beating the Crunch.

“We know they are all offence,” he said.

“They have got some great offensive guys. That is why we have to take care of defence first and then let the offence follow.

“If we play good defence, it is going to translate into offence.”

Gagne was also impressed with the play of Levis Friday night.

“This is the best hockey Kyle has played this season,” he said.

“He is only 16 years old and he is coming into his own. We had been anticipating him playing this way around Christmas time but at 16 and playing junior hockey it takes time.

“Now, in the playoffs the expectations are there and he has really been coming through. Not only is he scoring goals, but he gets involved, he fights, he mucks, he forechecks, he is reading the plays.

“When you play well like that, you are going to get ice time. He is penalty killing now and he is getting chances. We even had him on the power play a few times and he deserves it.”

Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard pulled starting goalie Brett Young after the third of those four goals, with Ben Auger coming on to finish up the second period.

Young was back between the pipes to start the third period and he was able to shut down the Eskimos’ attack.

The Crunch were credited with their second goal of the game at the 16:01 mark of the final period, as Ryan Fletcher threw the puck out front and it was sitting in the crease when Eskimos defenceman Ryan Kerr turned and accidentally kicked it into his own net.

Cochrane had an opportunity to do even more damage as Eskimos checking forward Patrick Picard was sent off for slashing shortly after the Crunch goal.

Leonard opted to pull Young in favour of an extra attacker to give the Crunch a two-man advantage.

The Crunch were not able to score, however, and with Young still on the bench after Picard’s penalty had expired Eskimos defenceman Kealey Cummings scored into the empty net to make the final 6-2 in favour of the visitors.

Leonard was not surprised to see the Eskimos put up such a tough fight in Game 5.

“We knew, coming into tonight’s game, that Abitibi was going to come in with a lot of momentum after winning the last game here,” Leonard said.

“Even though we were up 3-1, we knew Abitibi wasn’t going to give up tonight.

“The key to this game was in the first period when we got that first goal and then we had a couple of power plays and Tooker made some really good saves there to give them the momentum.”

The Crunch struggled to create offence when they were playing at even strength.

“Five-on-five tonight, we didn’t get any goals,” Leonard said.

“Our top three lines were all held off the scoresheet (with the exception of Stagg’s goal).

“Out of the nine of them about seven of them didn’t come to play tonight.

“When your top three lines don’t show up to play … I think Cody Gratton was the only player to show up and play the full 60 minutes.

“Everybody else, I think they are still in the dressing room.

“When you are shutout five-on-five and your top three lines don’t score in a big game like tonight, you have got some big issues.

“I hope tonight was a big wake up call for tomorrow.

Tooker made 38 saves to earn the victory for the Eskimos, while Young turned aside 24 shots and was tagged with the loss for the Crunch. Auger stopped four of the five shots he faced in relief of Young late in the second period.

NOJHL NOTES — Aviv Milner returned to the lineup for the Crunch after serving a three-game suspension for an incident earlier in the series … Eskimos goalie Logan Ferrington served the sixth game of his six-game suspension picked up for being involved in a second fight during the same stoppage of play in the Eskimos second-last regular season game … Eskimos forward Ryan Tront served the second game of his three-game suspension picked up for a checking-from-behind penalty in Game 3 … The Crunch went 1-4 on the power play, while the Eskimos were 2-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 650 … The NOJHL’s other playoff game Friday night saw the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners edge the Powassan Voodoos 5-4 in overtime. The Voodoos continue to lead that series 3-2 … Game 6 at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls on Saturday will start at 8 p.m., not 7:30 p.m.