By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock find themselves on the brink of elimination from the NOJHL playoffs after dropping a 6-4 decision to the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night.
In the wake of 4-1 and 12-2 setbacks in Cochrane, the Rock show an improved compete level in Game 3 of the best-of-seven East Division semi-final series, but not enough to impress coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“It’s not at 5-4 where we lost the game,” he said.
“It was basically when they scored those two quick goals. We were lackadaisical, I guess you could call it. Assignments were missed and it resulted in goals against. You can’t have that. You can’t even have that if we played a midget team.
“That’s where we lost the game. We had our chances afterwards and they had some chances. It was a good hockey game, except we fell short because of those two goals.”
Even though the Rock were in Tuesday night’s game, the loss was even more frustrating for Gagne than Saturday night’s 12-2 blowout loss.
“It is also frustrating that we have three or four players who can play better,” he said.
“They are our top players and they need to read the paper and say, ‘Hey, I have got to get better here.”
While disappointed in the play of some of his top players, Gagne was pleased with the efforts put forth by a number of others.
“I have to give a lot of kudos to (goalie Matthew) Nixon,” he said.
“He did really well back there and Aaron Kerr played great. He has been an MVP-level player.
“I also have to give credit to (Wayne) Mathieu. What an effort he put forth tonight. That line did well, also.
“Other than that, we have to get it going a little bit more.”
The Rock fell behind 2-0 midway through the second period when the Crunch scored a pair of goals 10 seconds apart.
Dustin Cordeiro broke in all alone to beat Rock starting goalie Logan Ferrington with his fifth goal of the series at the 9:38 mark of the period.
Seamus Maguire’s first goal of the series then resulted in Ferrington getting the hook for the second-straight game in favour of Nixon.
The move seemed to provide the momentum shift Gagne was looking for, as Kerr beat Crunch goalie Brett Young 21 seconds later to pull the Rock to within one goal of the lead.
Tristan Salesse’s first goal of the playoffs, just 1:14 into the second period, got the Rock back on even terms, at 2-2.
Cordeiro’s second goal of the night, just over four minutes later, put the Crunch in front 3-2.
The Rock answered quickly, however, with Ryan Theriault scoring his second goal of the playoffs to tie the game at 3-3.
Jon Marzec, who has been a thorn in the side of the Rock all season, then scored a pair of goals just under three minutes apart before the midway point of the period.
Marzec’s first of the night was scored on the power play, while his second was officially credited to teammate Lucas Robinson who was behind the Rock net and centred it to him for a one-timer that beat Nixon.
That goal would stand up to be the game-winner, although the Rock got a goal from Bain Cunningham at the 8:11 mark of the third period to pull the home side to within one goal, at 5-4.
With 1:30 remaining on the clock, the Rock pulled Nixon in favour of an extra attacker and swarmed the Crunch net.
An Andrew Castagna point shot sailed just wide of the post and the Rock came close three times during scrambles in front of the Cochrane goal, only to have Young turn them away time after time.
The Crunch finally iced the contest when Maguire fired the puck into the empty Rock net with 31.54 seconds remaining on the clock to make the final score 6-4.
Marzec was happy to net the game-winning goal and not too concerned about getting credit for it.
“Cordeiro started off the rush and Robinson jumped up in the play,” he said.
“I saw him going around the net and the best place to be on a play like that is in front of the net.
“He found me and I didn’t get a lot on the shot but it went five hole and trickled right in. The key was not hesitating and getting the puck on the net.”
Marzec isn’t sure why he has had such great success against the Rock this year.
“I think maybe it is just because I have been going to the net,” he said.
“I have found some good bounces and my linemates (Jeremy) McNeil and (John) Stevenson have been helping out. We have been doing a good job of grinding down low.”
Marzec felt the Rock put up a much better fight Tuesday night than they did during the first two games of the series in Cochrane.
“I have to give them that, they played much better tonight,” he said.
“We maintained our structured play and made simple, easy plays and I think that was the big difference.”
Marzec was quick to praise the play of Young in the Crunch net, especially during the final 1:30 of the contest.
“Brett just stood on his head,” he said.
“He did his typical job of saving our butts. He makes the big saves when we need them.”
Marzec hopes the Crunch are able to complete a sweep of the Rock Thursday night, so that they can avoid going to a Game 5.
“Thursday is going to be a big game,” he said.
“It is going to be do or die for them. They are going to come out hard and we are just going to have match their play.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard knows nailing down that fourth victory won’t be easy.
“The fourth win in any series is always the toughest one to get,” he said.
“When you are up 3-0 sometimes it is hard to get up, but you have to do it.
“I am not counting Timmins out of this series yet. You can never count Timmins out. Even teams in the NHL have come back from being down 3-0.”
Like Marzec, Leonard would like to see the Crunch finish off the Rock in Game 4 so they can sit back and recuperate while awaiting the winner of the other East Division semi-final series between the Powassan Voodoos and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“I think we have got three or four beat up guys from blocking shots tonight,” he said.
“With this being Easter weekend, it would be nice to get a nice long break and just let Powassan and Kirkland Lake keep beating the crap out of each other, so we can sit back and lick our wounds and rest up.”
Despite earning the victory, Leonard felt his team could have played better Tuesday night.
“At the end of the day, I didn’t feel we deserved to win tonight,” he said.
“I thought we played a sloppy hockey game. The old saying goes good teams find ways to win and that’s what we did tonight. Out of the last 10 games we have played, that was probably our worst game.
“I have never seen our D run around so much. We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes and we weren’t taking the man in front of the net. We made a lot of defensive mistakes that normally we don’t make.
“I think part of it was being up 2-0 quickly in the game. We kind of lost focus after last game (five goals in the first 5:09), thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s going to be another one of those.’
“We took our foot off the pedal for probably two or three shifts and they scored and it gave them some momentum.
“I thought half our team played hard tonight and the other half took the night off and we can’t have that in the playoffs. Right down to the final 30 seconds they were buzzing around our net trying to get the equalizer. Younger was there and everybody was throwing their body in front of the puck and sacrificing their bodies. All six guys were flopping there at one point, which is good, but it shouldn’t come down to the last minute and a half.”
Young stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up the win for the Crunch. Nixon, who turned aside 33 of the 36 shots the Crunch fire at him, was tagged with the loss for the Rock. Ferrington did not stop either of the two shots he faced.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Cordeiro, Nixon and Maguire … The Rock did not dress forward Cole Gilligan, forward Kyle Levis, defenceman Kealey Cummings and goalie Devon Debastos … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 643 … Game 4 will be played Thursday night at the McIntyre Arena. Like Tuesday’s contest, it will be a 7 p.m. start.