GALLERY: GAME 3 – Thunderbirds dump Rock, take 2-1 series lead

Timmins Rock forward Harry Clark and Soo Thunderbirds blue-liner Kaden Dundas battle for a loose puck during Game 3 of the best-of-seven NOJHL final at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night. The Thunderbirds skated to a 4-1 victory, taking a 2-1 lead in the series. NOJHL NETWORK jpg, TD  Photos: Bob Davies

The Timmins Rock fell behind early and never recovered while dropping a 4-1 decision to the Thunderbirds in Game 3 of the best-of-seven NOJHL final at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

SAULT STE. MARIE — The Timmins Rock fell behind early and never recovered while dropping a 4-1 decision to the Thunderbirds in Game 3 of the best-of-seven NOJHL final at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night.

As a result, the Rock — who sported the best record in the NOJHL during the regular season — find themselves trailing the series 2-1, heading into Game 4 at the John Rhodes Community Centre Monday night.

Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry was once again unhappy with most of what he saw from his club.

“We had a slow start and we are still out of sorts,” he said.

“After Game 1 (a 4-0 Rock victory), people were like, ‘why are you upset?’

“It is because of this right here. If you don’t correct that sloppy play, yah we caught them sleeping (in Game 1), maybe it was bus legs, maybe they were tired in Game 1, but we weren’t sharp.

“We weren’t sharp in Game 2 and we weren’t sharp tonight. Our systems, structurally, were a bit of a mess and it bit us tonight.

“At the end of the day, we outshot them in Game 2 and we outshot them tonight.

“At the end of the day, it is just will and compete and they are winning in those areas right now. They had a lot more will and a lot more compete. We just had a couple too many passengers.”

The Rock coach wasn’t about to take the Thunderbirds superior size and physicality as an excuse for his Rock’s struggles in Game 2 and Game 3.

“It doesn’t matter how big you are if you compete and your will is higher, you are going to win battles,” Perry said.

“Listen, we have Hearst in our conference, so we are no stranger to big and physical teams.

“We just need to get going and dig a little deeper and get some pucks past this guy (Thunderbirds goalie Landon Miller).”

For the second-straight game, the Rock had trouble beating Miller, who has given up just one goal in the past two games after surrendering four in the series opener.

“We had a few chances tonight, but they are not going in the net right now,” Perry said.

“We need to find a way to bring it, amp it up a little bit tomorrow.”

The Rock outshot the Thunderbirds 13-8 in the opening period Sunday night, but found themselves trailing 3-1 after 20 minutes of play.

It took the Thunderbirds just 1:41 to get on the scoreboard, with blue-liner Kaden Dundas netting his fifth goal of the playoffs and first of the final.

Wyatt Marlow’s sixth goal of the playoffs and first of the final then extended the home side’s advantage to 2-0.

Two minutes later, a Justin Charette power-play marker, his second tally of the playoffs and first of the final, cut the Rock’s deficit to a single goal, but it didn’t take the Thunderbirds long to get that one back.

Jackson Truchan’s goal with 22 seconds remaining in the opening period, and 50 seconds after Charette’s tally, restored the Thunderbirds two-goal advantage heading into the first intermission.

It was the forward’s eighth goal of the playoffs and second of the final.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the middle frame, with each squad registering nine shots on goal.

The Thunderbirds outshot the Rock 9-7 in the third period, with Justin Mauro’s fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the final closing out the scoring and making the final 4-1.

Perry admitted falling behind early and having to play catch-up hockey the rest of the way is not a great recipe for success.

“They are a great hockey team,” he said.

“If we don’t show up on time and ready to play, we are going to get beat. It is hard to chase a team that good.”

Despite the loss, there were some individual Rock players who impressed their coach Sunday night.

“I really liked the Charette (Hayden) Rynard and (Lucas) Lowe line,” Perry said.

“Justin Charette is playing his best hockey and he has been so good for us. I just wish a few more guys on our roster cared as much as he does.”

The Rock couldn’t have asked for much more from their special teams Sunday night, other than maybe a few more opportunities with the man advantage.

“Our penalty kill has been outstanding, all series, all playoffs,” Perry said.

“Our power play has been a little bit of a mess, even tonight. We had to get away from our normal setup and just throw guys out there.

“Obviously, Justin Charette has been playing well, so we put him out there and gave him an opportunity and he came through.

“That player right there has never let me down in a hockey game. Every time I give him an opportunity he comes through, he never disappoints me.

“Maybe that’s my answer right there, a guy like him needs to play more.”

The Rock were without the services of blue-liner Brandon Rossetti, who is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury after crashing awkwardly into the boards in the third period of Game 2.

As bad as the Rock have played in the past two games, if they can earn a win in Game 4 they will take back home-ice advantage in the series.

“It would become a best two-out-of-three with two games at The Mac,” Perry said.

“I would like that.”

For that to happen, it is imperative the Rock get off to a better start than they did in Game 3 Sunday night.

“It is just will and compete, we need to up those two levels,” Perry said.

“We need to care more, we have got to get on pucks quicker, we have to put more pressure on them on our forecheck.

“We just need to get going. Throw Xs and Os out the window. We need to want it.”

Miller, who turned aside 28 of the 29 shots the Rock directed his way, earned his 10th win of the playoffs for the Thunderbirds.

Rock goalie Patrick Boivin, who stopped 22 of the 26 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Miller, Marlow and Charette … The Rock went 1-1 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 0-1 with the man advantage … Rock forward Nolan Ring and Thunderbirds blue-liner Ranon Joseph each served the second game of the four-game suspensions they picked up for a Game 1 altercation … Official attendance at the John Rhodes Community Centre was 346.