SAULT STE. MARIE - Darcy Haines scored a pair of goals to lead the Soo Thunderbirds to a 4-1 victory over the Abitibi Eskimos at the Essar Centre Sunday night.
The victory gives the Thunderbirds a 2-0 series lead heading to Iroquois Falls for Game 3 at the Jus Jordan Arena on Wednesday night.
“We were definitely happy with the outcome,” said Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith.
“We played a real strong game.
“Our compete level was real high and the boys were committed to playing our system. It was a good game for us.”
Despite being outshot 15-2 in the opening frame, the Eskimos were tied with the Thunderbirds 1-1 after 20 minutes of play.
Jaren Bellini put the home side on the scoreboard 6:20 into the period when he beat Eskimos netminder Brody Wagner.
Captain Kevin Walker’s unassisted goal midway through the period got the Eskimos back on even terms, however.
“We were happy how we played early on,” Smith said.
“The goal they did get again was a deflection that (goalie) Brian (Kment) didn’t really have a chance on.
“We just kept with it and stuck with it for the course of the game and it paid off.”
Eskimos killer Eric Hillock — who had a pair of game-winning goals against the Eskimos during the regular season — had the lone goal of the second period, as the Thunderbirds took a lead they would never surrender.
Haines then netted a pair of goals 10 minutes apart in the final period to provide a little icing on the cake.
Thunderbirds captain Gavin Burbach assisted on both of those goals, as well as Bellini’s first-period marker.
“They (Haines, Burbach and Bellini) had a strong game,” Smith said.
Kment ran his unbeaten streak in the playoffs to six games, as he turned aside 15 Eskimos’ shots to pick up the victory.
“We didn’t want to turn the puck over,” Smith said.
“We wanted to get it out of our zone, get it deep in their zone and not give them many chances to hurt us off the rush.”
Wagner made 38 saves in a losing cause for the Eskimos.
Goaltending, according to coach and general manager Paul Gagne was not the Eskimos problem Sunday night.
“The first goal, he didn’t have much of a chance,” he said.
“The puck was deflected and there was a little interference in the crease. One of our players pushed one of their players, so he was a little off balance, and then there were a couple of point blank shots, he had some two-on-ohs in front of the net.
“You know what, he did well. We can’t say we lost this game because of goaltending, not a chance.
Gagne felt the Eskimos played better Sunday night than they had in Game 1.
“That is the one positive we can take from tonight’s game,” he said.
“We played better, but we had some individual mistakes and they cost us goals.
“It is unfortunate, but the team that makes the fewest mistakes comes up winning the game.”
Usually the team that generates the most scoring opportunities is the team that comes out on the winning end of the equation, as well.
“Anybody in the game of hockey knows if you don’t have any shots on net you are never going to win a hockey game,” Gagne said.
“We just don’t want to shoot. Our better opportunities, we didn’t hit the net, and that is only three or four chances. Add three or four shots to that and it’s not enough, it’s not. We knew it, they knew it, but they don’t want to shoot. If they don’t want to shoot, there is nothing you can do. I wish I could go on the ice and take shots for them, but we can’t.
“It’s not like it is not mentioned. We talk about it all the time.”
The Eskimos problems in their own defensive zone are not rocket science, either.
“The goals we are scored on, we just don’t want to get it out,” Gagne said.
“There is no secret to this game.
“As I mentioned before, our theme for a night was ‘when in doubt, dump it out,’ well tonight it was ‘when it doubt, work in the defensive zone a little longer.’
“It is unfortunate, but in all fairness we did play better — but we gave them those opportunities and they scored.”
Smith is happy with the way the Thunderbirds have started the series, but he realizes there is a lot of work left to do before it is over.
“For sure, we are happy with the start but we realize it is over now and our focus switches to Wednesday night at Abitibi,” he said.
“We will have two good practices on Monday and Tuesday to get ready to go for Wednesday night.”
In addition to generating more shots and getting the puck out of their own zone more effectively Wednesday night, Gagne feels the Eskimos need to be more physical.
“Those three guys (Haines, Burbach and Belini), that line, had a dozen eggs in their pants and they weren’t even broken after the game,” he said, borrowing a line former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard used to describe Swedish winger Inge Hammerstrom.
“We never touched them, it’s true, we never touched them and if you don’t touch their good players … our good players, we got hit.
“We are going to have to play more physical, get more shots on net and play more in the offensive zone.
“When it doubt, dump it out, end of story. It is a very simple game.”
Both the Eskimos and the Thunderbirds are relatively healthy heading into Game 3 on Wednesday night.
Game 3 at the Jus Jordan Arena on Wednesday is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.