TIMMINS – A.J. Campbell’s goal with 1:15 remaining in the second overtime period lifted the Timmins Rock to a 2-1 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks in Game 4 of their NOJHL East Division best-of-seven semi-final series at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
It was the 53rd shot the Rock had pounded Lumberjacks netminder Nicholas Tallarico with as they took a 3-1 lead in the series, with Game 5 scheduled for the Claude Larose Arena Sunday night.
After playing without star D-man Alec Johnson for the first three games of the series, the Lumberjacks were also without two of their top snipers — Jake Desando and Max Griffioen — Friday night.
Johnson has one more game to serve on the 10-game suspension he picked up for a slew-footing incident during a game on Feb. 15.
Desando (10 games for intent to injure) and Griffioen (seven games for head contact) were serving the first games of suspensions picked during Game 3 of the series in Timmins Wednesday night.
Rock coach Corey Beer was happy to see his squad outlast the Lumberjacks Friday night.
“It was phenomenal hockey again from both clubs,” he said.
“I thought throughout the night both teams were outstanding at certain facets of the game, whether it was locking it down or getting their forecheck engaged.
“That’s as good of playoff hockey as you are going to see over two nights and we were fortunate to come out with the win and be up in the series right now.”
For the second-straight game, Tallarico was almost unbeatable.
“I thought both goalies were outstanding to be quite honest,” Beer said.
“Masty (Tyler Masternak) really came through later on when they started getting their chances and Tallarico proved why he is such a good goaltender. He made some outstanding saves and kept his team in it.”
It was the Lumberjacks who drew first blood in Friday night’s contest, as Daniel Fisher beat Masternak with his first goal of the playoffs just past the midway point of the opening period.
The Rock tied things up on a Riley Robitaille power-play marker, his first goal of the playoffs, with 44 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the third period, with the game being sent to overtime.
The initial overtime session failed to produce a winner, as well, with the Lumberjacks outshooting the Rock 9-7.
In the second overtime period, the Rock carried the play to the Lumberjacks, outshooting the visitors 13-8 before Campbell’s game-winning marker, his second goal of the playoffs.
Campbell’s game-winning goal came off a scramble in front of Tallarico, with the forward finally stuffing the puck under the Lumberjacks goalie on his third attempt.
“What a finish there at the end,” Beer said.
“By that point, both teams were just running on adrenaline. You get through the first overtime and you are kind of sitting there thinking OK, who is going to be the hero.
“For it to go to double OT and go as deep as it did, your brain almost shuts off and you are playing on emotion and heart, hoping for a bounce either way and fortunately we got the right one at the end.”
Beer agreed in a low-scoring contest like Friday night’s victory, it was appropriate the game-winning goal was scored by a forward better known for his defensive game.
“That’s usually the way it goes,” he said.
“The top end guys get more attention and all of a sudden, late, you get a weird bounce or a fluky one and it is one of the hard-working guys.
“I thought A.J. was outstanding on the penalty kill tonight and he certainly deserved the goal the way he plays a 200-foot game, looking after all the small details.
“It was awesome for him to get that goal.”
There was no shortage of players who impressed the Rock coach with strong efforts Friday night and he opted to single out a few of them for a little extra praise.
“Luka Bolduc and Eric Moreau both battled through injuries,” Beer said.
“We will have to evaluate where they are at. Owen Shier, Rhys Chiddenton and Darcy Haupt had their minutes cut down as the game went on and it would have been very easy for them to sit there and feel bad about themselves, but they were as vocal as any guy on our bench, cheering their teammates on.
“That’s a true reflection of a team right there. It’s not about me and what am I getting, it’s about can I still support my teammates when my personal success isn’t at the forefront.
“For those five individuals and Jean-Marc Brisson, being a great back-up goalie is great to see for us right now.”
Masternak stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up his NOJHL-leading fifth win of the playoffs.
Tallarico, who turned aside 51 of the 53 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Campbell, Tallarico and Rock forward Keegan McMullen (one assist) … Both the Rock and the Lumberjacks went 1-6 on the power play … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,440 … Friday’s other contests saw the Beavers hang on to edge the Soo Thunderbirds 3-2 in Blind River, evening one West Division semi-final series at 2-2, while the Eagles thumped the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 7-4 in the other to stay alive, although they trail the series 3-1 … Game 5 between the Rock and the Lumberjacks will be played at the Claude Larose Arena on Sunday, at 7 p.m.