IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos held on to defeat the Elliot Lake Wildcats 4-3 at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday.
The victory pulls the Eskimos into a tie with the Crunch for second place in the NOJHL East Division standings, although Cochrane has three games in hand.
It didn’t come without a little bit of drama at the end, however, as the Wildcats struck for two goals — off the sticks of Jason Wilson and Liam Blais — in just over two minutes to pull within one goal, with just over eight seconds left on the clock.
With Wildcats goalie A.J. Smith on the bench in favour of an extra attacker the Wildcats were able to push the puck forward from the face-off at centre ice, but they were not able to penetrate the Eskimos’ inner defence before the final buzzer sounded.
“The third period tonight was the worst period that we played all weekend,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“The guys were making individual mistakes and they got two quick goals there at the end.
“We knew they were going to try and move the puck forward at the end and we had the right players on the ice at the end. We were composed, but we just wanted those eight seconds to go by quickly.”
Clearly the Eskimos were not as sharp in the final couple of minutes of the game as they had been earlier in building up a 4-1 advantage.
“We made sure that we addressed that after the game,” Dube said.
“Those two mental mistakes can’t happen, especially after the two periods we had played earlier. It was unfortunate that those mistakes happened, but the guys got four points this weekend.”
Dube was pleased to see the Eskimos pull into a tie with the Crunch in the standings Saturday night, even though the Eskimo have played better hockey in the Tim Horton Event Centre this season than they have on home ice.
“Post season is totally different,” he said.
“Any time you can get home ice advantage, that is what you want. You want to play in front of your fans and you know your routine when you are at home.”
The Wildcats actually got on the scoresheet first Saturday night, with captain David Chiarelli beating Eskimos goalie Logan Ferrington with an even-strength goal 2:31 into the first period.
It took the Eskimos less than five minutes to get back on even terms, however, as Brennan Roy — one third of the Eskimos’ Killer B’s line — scored a power-play goal, his 29th of the season, to make it a 1-1 hockey game.
One night after the line of Roy (three points), Brenden Locke (two points) and Brady Clouthier (two points) combined for 12 points, the Killer B’s were at it again Saturday night, collecting seven points.
Clouthier is now tied with the suspended Cody Gratton, of the Cochrane Crunch, for the NOJHL scoring lead. They each have 87 points, one more than Steve Harland, of the Powassan Voodoos, who scored his 42nd goal of the season during a 5-2 loss to the Soo Thunderbirds on home ice Saturday night.
The second period was all Eskimos, as they scored three-straight goals to take a 4-1 lead.
Defenceman Joshua DeJulio got the ball rolling when he beat Smith just 23 seconds into the middle frame for his second goal of the season.
Tristan Salesse upped the lead to 3-1 when he scored a power-play marker, his 15th goal of the season five-and-a-half minutes later.
Locke added a power-play marker of his own, his 37th goal of the season, to make it 4-1 in favour of the Eskimos heading into the second intermission.
That is the way the score remained until there was just 2:36 remaining in the third period and the Wildcats staged their mini-rally.
Elliot Lake coach Nathan Hewitt did not think his team was as sharp Saturday night in Iroquois Falls as it had been in winning the first two games of the trip.
“Overall, given a couple of days, I think we will look back and be pretty happy with the result of this trip,” he said.
“It is a little bit sour right now. I thought we could have played a lot better tonight. I thought we looked a little bit fatigued and we took some really bad penalties that ended up really costing us.”
The Eskimos frustrated the Wildcats for most of the game.
“They were pretty good on the forecheck,” Hewitt said.
“At times, they gave us difficulty breaking out. I thought we adjusted OK. If you look at our stats, I thought we played well, considering it was our third game in three nights.
“We put a lot of shots on their goalie and you have to give him credit. He showed up and made a couple of key saves for them.”
Ferrington made 43 saves to earn the victory for the Eskimos, while Smith stopped 24 of the 28 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
Smith played his third game in three nights after missing more than two weeks with a lower-body injury. After beating the Crunch 4-2 in Cochrane Thursday night, Smith shut out the Gold Miners 1-0 in Kirkland Lake Friday night.
Hewitt was again pleased with the effort put forth by Blais Saturday night.
“He was good again, but I just thought everybody was kind of OK.”
Eskimos forward Ryan Tront played his second game after returning from an upper-body injury that had kept him out of the lineup for some time against the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night.
“Physically, I am 100% ready to go,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of getting my stamina and getting back in game shape to get ready for the playoffs.
“It felt good out there. I am starting to get some chemistry back with my linemates (Ryan Attwood and Salesse). Me and Ryan have had some chemistry going back (to the start of the season) and I kind of know Tristan from back in Thunder Bay. He is a Northern Ontario boy from over there.
“We got a week of practice under our belt and now we have gotten in a couple of games, so now I am feeling good for the games two weekends from now.”
Tront feels the key to the Eskimos’ success this weekend was their play in the defensive zone.
“We had four lines going and defensively we were backing up our tendy,” he said.
“And we had a first line that was putting the puck in the net. You can’t really stop that first line when they are out there putting the puck in the net and all we have to do is support our goalie and we are going to have a good first round coming up in the playoffs.
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos went 3-6 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 0-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance in the second-last regular-season game at the Jus Jordan Arena was 534 … The Eskimos do not return to action until Friday, March 6, when they will host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins. The following night they will play their last regular-season game at the Jus Jordan Arena when they host the Mattawa Blackhawks.