The Battlefords North Stars are two wins away from a Canalta Cup championship after another solid performance at home on Saturday night when they grabbed a 5-1 win.
Their current 2-0 series advantage is due to a number of factors, including a balanced attack, a superb penalty kill, cutthroat defence, and strong goaltending.
In Saturday's game two win, which stretches the team's overall post-season record to a perfect 10-0, those four areas showed itself once again in a big way.
The penalty kill went 6-for-6, they got goals from five different players, and Joel Gryzbowski stopped 31 of 32 pucks for his third win of the playoffs.
"Right now, we're just playing our game," said North Stars forward Logan Nachtegaele, who scored his second of the playoffs and was the game's first star. "We want to wear them down and play good defensively and that's what we've been doing."
That being said, this was not really a 5-1 hockey game.
Flin Flon hit a post and cross-bar in the second period when they were down 2-0. Had those gone in, things could have been very different.
"We knew Flin Flon was going to be better and they were much better today," said North Stars head coach Nate Bedford. "I dont think the score was indicative of how close it was.
"I thought at times we could have made easier plays and got pucks in deep and taken a hit but all in all I think we rebounded real quick. Any time when we made a mistake, we went right back at it."
Not only would Flin Flon find iron twice, but the North Stars did get a lucky bounce on the second goal when Layne Young batted one out of the air from the side of the net with 1.7 seconds to go in the first period. And on the third goal, Bombers defenceman Eric Sinclair fell behind the net, allowing MacGregor Sinclair to centre a perfect pass to Nachtegaele to make it a 3-0 game.
"We just haven't had a bounce in this series," said Bombers head coach Mike Reagan. "Two unfortunate goals there and other than that, I thought we played a pretty good game.
"[We've] got to take the positives out of it. I liked our compete level a lot better. I thought we created a lot more offence tonight and we just had a couple mental mistakes and a couple bad bounces against."
The North Stars penalty kill was successful in killing off a 5-on-3 on two different occasions, which had a lot to do with the final score as well.
In these playoffs, it has now gone 39-for-41, which is 95.1 per cent. The team also has three shorthanded goals.
"We had real active sticks and they had a hard time getting the puck through the middle of our penalty kill," Bedford said. "I thought our 'D' – [Levi] Kleiboer, [Cody] Spagrud, [Connor] Sych, [Kendall] Fransoo, [Ryan] Rosenberg, [Connor] Manegre – I thought our 'D' was fantastic tonight.
"We didn't block many shots today: it was more stick stuff. We're not really a stick-stuff type team. We like to grind it out and use our body and our guys know that. It's just one of those games where we didn't really execute that part of it. But that's how good this team is."
Gryzbowski may be a 17-year-old rookie, but he didn't play like it.
The North Stars gave up more than 30 shots for just the second time in these playoffs, and the Hafford native was in the zone all night long.
"[Gryzbowski and Kotchorek] keep making me look smart," Bedford said. "What I liked about Gryzowski was he was out, he was aggressive, he looked confident, and he didn't have shaky feet at any point.
"I've said it before – sometimes when our goalies let in a goal or two, I just feel like it's never going to happen again. It's a good feeling to have."
Scoring for the North Stars on Saturday were Reed Delainey, Young, Nachtegaele, Coby Downs, and Keaton Holinaty, who leads the league with nine goals in the playoffs. Ben Allen and Cody Spagrud each had two assists.
The series now shifts to Flin Flon for games three and four, set for Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It's a tough building to play in so I think the more emphassis we put on the importance of the game, it almost becomes a situation where you don't feel like it's surmountable," Bedford said of the team's upcoming road games at the Whiney Forum, where Flin Flon went 22-3-2-2 in the regular season. "You worry about the building, you worry about how good they play in there, you worry about how physical they are, and you worry about what happens if you lose. You worry and your worry turns into a loss. So lets be light. Lets go in and treat it one game at a time and have some fun with it. If we're successful in the first game, great. If we're not, then we'll battle back and we will be in the second. That's got to be our mentality."
Puck drop for both games is one hour earlier than normal because of the Manitoba time zone. The Ultra Print pre-game show begins at 6:15 p.m. Saskatchewan time with puck drop at 6:30 p.m. on CJNB/CJNS.
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