ELLIOT LAKE - The Bobcats scored five third-period goals to break open a close game and hand the visiting Abitibi Eskimos a 7-1 setback in Game 3 of their NOJHL best-of-seven quarter-final series Thursday night at the Centennial Arena.
Goals by Jacob Erwin, Torrin Grange, Brett Wagner, Jason Berube and Jared Walker allowed the home side to cruise to victory and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
The Bobcats outshot the Eskimos 18-2 in the period and dominated play from the first puck drop until the final buzzer.
“We played really well (in the third period), but we played well the whole game,” said Bobcats coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard.
“I think at the start of the third period the shots on goal were 36-15 and we finally broke (Eskimos goalie Brody) Wagner after all the shots.
“It looked like he was pretty tired come the third period.”
The approach, for the Bobcats, was similar to the game plan that saw them gain a split of the first two games in Iroquois Falls.
“We stuck to playing hockey and that is what won us the hockey game,” Leonard said.
“It was the same kind of effort. Two guys on the puck at all times and lots of shots and it was working, because we had 54 shots tonight to their 19.
“Now we are just looking towards tomorrow night. Hopefully we can pull out another win.”
Another victory would put the Bobcats up 3-1 in the series heading back to Iroquois Falls for Game 5 on Sunday night. A loss, however, would see the teams tied at 2-2 heading back to the Jus Jordan Arena, with the Eskimos regaining their home-ice advantage.
Leonard was pleased with the team effort his Bobcats turned in Thursday night and the balanced scoring.
“Everybody chipped in tonight,” he said.
The only negative from Game 3 for the Bobcats was a knee injury suffered by McFarlane — one of the club’s top defenders.
“It was pretty bad,” Leonard said.
“He is at the hospital. We don’t know what his status is going to be for tomorrow. He was hurting.”
Leonard was not happy with the Eskiimos “running his players” at the end of the game.
“The last 11 or 12 minutes, all they did was run us,” he said.
“I don’t know how many penalties they got, I think it was five or six. From the 11-minute mark on, they just kept running us.
“We called a time out with three minutes left to try and calm our guys down. We told our guys no more forechecking and to lie back so there would be no crap starting like last time and instead they kept running us.
“It is not good to win hockey games that way.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was not happy with the Bobcats decision to call that timeout, feeling it was an attempt to rub salt into the Eskimos wounds.
“It was a 6-1 hockey game and they decided to call a timeout,” he said.
“If you can figure that out, or anybody in the hockey world can figure that one out … it’s like pouring vinegar on our wounds. There is something wrong there somewhere.”
When informed of Leonard’s thinking, Gagne said: “I am hoping that is why he did it, but it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Despite the one-sided loss, Gagne felt like the Eskimos were the better team in the first period, even though they trailed 2-0.
“After 10 minutes of play, while we were down 2-0, I felt like we were dominating,” he said.
“At one point, we should have been up 5-2, but we never took advantage of those opportunities.
“We were making things happen and we had great scoring opportunities, but we didn’t shoot.
“We had three-on-ohs, we had three-on-ones, two-on-ones and we never took a shot on net.
“We were trying to be fancy with the puck. When it is a 2-0 game we lose the puck at the far blue line in the offensive zone instead of dumping it in like we had it scripted. Then we had a turnover and it was 3-1 and the next thing you know we are not taking our man, on rebounds we were not taking our man and it was just ugly in the third period.”
The Bobcats jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the first period of play on goals by Bryan McFarlane and Aaron Carmichael less than two minutes apart.
The Eskimos were able to cut the Bobcats’ advantage to 2-1 before the end of the period on Landon Hiebert’s power-play goal with 1:49 remaining in the frame.
Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period.
Bobcats goalie Alex Bitsakis has made 18 saves to earn the victory, while Wagner of the Eskimos has turned aside 47 Elliot Lake shots while suffering the loss.
The Eskimos were 1-5 on the power play, while the Bobcats went 2-7 with the man advantage.
The Eskimos were without the services of three defencemen — captain Kevin Walker, Kealey Cummings and Jamey Lauzon — in Game 3.
Gagne was not about to use that as an excuse for his team’s effort, however.
“I am not going to blame our defence, because on offence we had every opportunity, every opportunity to shoot the puck and score and we never took those opportunities,” he said.
“We were always trying to make one last-ditch pass, here or there. When you are 10 feet in front of the net, you make a pass and the puck goes in the corner. There is no reason for that.
“We cannot blame our defence, not a chance, or our goaltender. It was the forwards. We had every opportunity. It looks like our defence, but no, it’s not. It starts right from the front, 200 feet from our net.”
Lauzon should be back in the lineup for Friday night’s game, but Walker and Cummings remain out with their suspensions.
In terms of injuries, Gagne said: “Our pride is hurt tonight, big time.”
Forwardr Bady Clouthier, back after a team-imposed indefinite suspension played, but he was held off the scoreboard.
Game 4 of the series will also be played at the Centennial Arena on Friday, starting at 7:30 p.m.
The two teams will then return to Iroquois Falls for Game 5 at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday at 7:30 p.m.