Timmins Rock goalie Eric Jackson follows the path of the puck as it rolls through his crease while backchecking forward Linden Spencer ties up Cochrane Crunch sniper Marcus Blackned-Rabbitskin during Game 4 of the NOJHL East Division final at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night. Jackson’s shutout streak ended at 115:08, as the Crunch posted a 1-0 victory to take command of the best-of-seven series, 3-1. Game 5 will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Cochrane Crunch are one win away from advancing to the NOJHL final after they posted a 1-0 victory over the Timmins Rock at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
As a result, the Crunch — who now lead the best-of-seven East Division final 3-1 — will have a chance to close out the series at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night.
Rock goalie Eric Jackson was beaten for the first time in 115:08 when Crunch forward Kyle Herbster got a shot past him with just 5:01 remaining in the third period for the only goal of the contest Wednesday night.
It was Herbster’s third goal of the playoffs, but just his second point in the first four games of the East Division final.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard had called out Herbster for the forward’s lack of production following Game 3 of the series and the Cary, Ill., native responded to the criticism.
“He did what he was supposed to do tonight,” Leonard said.
“He buried one when got the opportunity and it was a huge goal for us.”
The coach felt both teams played well in the contest.
“It was an excellent hockey game and I have to give full marks to Timmins,” Leonard said.
“They worked hard and they battled right through to the end. Again, we had some good quality scoring chances, but we were just a little snake bittern.
“We rolled the dice and changed our lines up to start the third period to see if we could get a little bit more jump offensively and we did have a lot more jump in the third period.
“You could see a little bit more passing going on, so something fresh kind of worked.”
Unlike Monday night, when the pressure seemed to get to the Crunch at times, the squad was much calmer — especially at key points of the contest.
“We didn’t get impatient tonight like we did in that game,” Leonard said.
“We did a good job defensively. There were very few shots from inside the house. Everything was from the outside.”
Crunch goalie Shayne Battler — making his first start in the East Division final — turned aside all 30 shots he faced to earn his second victory and post his second shutout of the playoffs.
“Our D did their jobs and Battler did an excellent job again. He didn’t let out any rebounds. He covered everything and he played the puck nice.
“He has three starts now in the playoffs and this is his second shutout. He will definitely be back in there again Friday night.”
At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Battler is a little bigger than Taylor Unruh, who started the first three games of the series, and he used that size to his advantage Wednesday night.
“It makes the defencemen’s jobs so much easier back there, knowing there are not going to be rebounds,” Leonard said.
“I have to give full credit to our D, for this whole series and the series against Kirkland Lake. There has only been one game where we have given up more than two goals.”
The Crunch’s twin towers on the blue-line — 6-1, 190-pound Connor Lovie and 6-5, 190-pound Noah Bennett — were once again at the top of their games Wednesday night.
“This was the best game of the playoffs for those two guys,” Leonard said.
“Everybody turned in a solid effort for us tonight. We were able to roll four lines all night. That makes life a little bit easier.
“Again, I have to give full credit to those young guys over there. Beersy (Rock coach Corey Beer) had them today, just like last game.”
With 1,311 fans in attendance, the crowd once again played a factor in Wednesday night’s contest even though the home side came out on the losing end of the equation.
“Every team that comes in here has a tough time,” Leonard said.
“I am a lot happier going home up 3-1 and not tied 2-2 because we don’t want to give that team across the ice any momentum.”
No offence to Timmins, but Leonard hopes his Crunch don’t have to return to the McIntyre Arena until next season.
“This is one building I don’t like to play in,” he said.
“We absolutely have to finish this series off Friday night.”
Beer, on the other hand, is counting on the series going the full seven games — with his Rock winning not once, but twice at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
For that to happen, of course, the Rock will likely have to discover a little magic on the power play — or at least get a lucky bounce here or there.
“It’s not good,” Beer said.
“It is tough to look at some times. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been our strength all year. It is a pain in the butt.
“We haven’t had too many good power play quarterbacks this season and it makes it tough to get good puck movement that way. We know we have a scrappy group and you hope for some puck luck sometimes, but unfortunately we didn’t get any tonight.”
Nine times out of 10 when you hold a high-scoring team like the Crunch to a single goal in 60 minutes of hockey, you are going to win.
Unfortunately for Rock fans, Wednesday night was that other time.
“Playing good defence has been a strength of our team,” Beer said.
“Unfortunately, we had a missed assignment in the third period. I don’t know how you leave the league’s leading scorer (regular season) wide open like that, but we got puck fixated and they snuck in behind our defence.”
The coach was once again impressed with the play of his goalie Wednesday night.
“E.J. has been great since stepping in there and we tried to do a good job of boxing out and taking care of the front of the net,” Beer said.
“He only allowed the one goal against and gave us every chance to win.”
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on some of the bounces around their net. They do a good job too. It’s the conference final and both teams are trying to play as hard as they can.”
Ultimately, the Rock’s goal is to battle back and win the series, but the team is really determined to steal a win in Cochrane Friday night to reward their loyal fans with at least one more home game.
“They are just amazing,” Beer said.
“We didn’t give them much to cheer about tonight, but they still tried to will us to get going.”
The coach feels his squad’s youth and inexperience may have worked against it Wednesday night.
“Maybe our guys didn’t understand the moment as well as they should have and the desperation factor,” Beer said.
“A team hands you a bunch of power plays, but we just couldn’t manufacture anything.”
That sense of desperation should be self-evident heading into Friday night’s contest at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
“We are life and death now,” Beer said.
“For us, as a team, it’s back to the drawing board and trying to figure out how to claw things out one game at a time.”
Jackson, who turned blocked 33 of the 34 shots directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Battler, Jackson and Herbster … The Rock did not dress forward C.J. Bradburn (upper-body injury) and affiliate defenceman Frederic Leclair-Pouw (undisclosed) … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,311 … Wednesday’s other contest saw the Rayside-Balfour Canadians edge the Thunderbirds 4-3 in Sault Ste. Marie to take a 2-1 lead in the West Division final. Game 5 of the East Division final will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Friday, at 7:30 p.m