Tue May 24 01:39am EDT
MISSISSAUGA — One night after a game everyone couldn't wait to see end, came one no one wanted to see end. The Saint John Sea Dogs, with Jonathan Huberdeau waking up from a somewhat quiet night to score the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the Owen Sound Attack, are directly into the MasterCard Memorial Cup final.
Owen Sound next faces the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors (both 1-1) on Wednesday. Pending Saint John's result vs. Kootenay on Tuesday, where the Sea Dogs will have nothing on the line
The story of the game in quote form.
How confident was Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant his team would rally? Even with Attack goalie Jordan Binnington dialled in, there was no reason to doubt Saint John would have a breakthrough.
"We're a pretty gifted offensive hockey team and 2-0 was a big hole to dig out of when you're playing a good team and with the way the goaltending [Binnington, who made 41 saves] was playing," he said. "We're never going to quit. That first goal, it was unbelievable play from [Tomas] Jurco to [Stanislav] Galiev. We know we're never out of a hockey game."
"It couldn't get much more exciting than that," Gallant added. "It was an overtime game, I'm sure the crowd was very excited for the game, it was a battle all night."
What was Gallant's best little-noticed coaching move of the game? Probably holding Huberdeau back for a few minutes early in the second period after his star made little impact early. It paid off later, as Guy Flaming noted:
Huberdeau had been criticized, and rightfully so, by the Sportsnet broadcast team and intermission panel for having "an off night." Certainly he was turning the puck over a lot but I thought he was skating pretty well. There was some question about injury, especially early in the second period when he didn't see the ice for the first 4 minutes, but it appears that head coach Gerard Gallant was just sending him a message. (Coming Down The Pipe!)
Where did the Attack lose their grip on the game? Owen Sound caught a pair of breaks for its goals, but never took full advantage of it. An third goal — and without Saint John goalie Jacob DeSerres' sprawling arm save on Cameron Brace in the opening period, they'd have had one — might have been paramount.
"I thought the first period, the first 10 minutes, we weren't the best we can be," Attack coach Mark Reeds said. "We may have been a little in awe of their speed ... we had the opportunity to go up 3-0. [Winger] Mike Halmo walked out on his backhand and Cameron Brace had the opportunity to make it a three-goal lead. You never want to sit on a two-goal lead ... The 5-on-3 [for 1:07 late in the second period] was critical for us to score on, those are two incidences that hurt us."
How much confidence will the Attack have if they face Saint John in the final, possibly with a recovered Joey Hishon? The glass-half-full for the Attack is that if DeSerres (47 saves) had not been at peak form, the result might have been different.
"[DeSerres] had lot of scrambles and made some pretty good saves," Brace said. "They played really well, but we just couldn't bury on our chances."
The Attack's focus, obviously, is on Wednesday's de facto Game 8 of the OHL final against the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors. (Owen Sound will officially be home team.) At least there's the comfort in knowing they can hang in with Saint John if there's a rematch.
"We played a pretty solid game," captain Garrett Wilson said. "The game could go either way if we played them again."
Seriously, how good was Binnington? Just ask DeSerres, who had a good view of his counterpart from his net 180 feet away. The Owen Sound netminder seldom looked rattled; there was little he could have done on any of the three goals.
"He played outstanding," DeSerres said. "What is he, only 17 years old? Good for him. That's a lot of pressure for a kid his age to handle."
How much did the Sea Dogs draw on having won two double-OT games on the road in the QMJHL final? DeSerres noted it helped bestow a sense of patience, which might have contributed to not making an unforced error that could have led to a winning goal.
"I did think about those and I'm pretty sure our whole team did," he said. "You just know that in overtime, you take as long as you need, you try to go for it, but you don't need to be in a track meet. You just need to keep plugging away, hitting the ball back and eventually you'll score.
"Sometimes you're just so into it you don't even notice your body," DeSerres added. "You're sweating and you're drenched and it doesn't even matter."
With Saint John having won the round-robin and Kootenay (0-2) coming into tomorrow's game needing to win just to reach a — don't say it! — tiebreaker game, will the Sea Dogs mail it in on Tuesday? Gallant said there is no chance of that happening, but with the tournament format people are bound to wonder. Last year, though, the Windsor Spitfires faced the same situation against the Moncton Wildcats on Day 5 of the tournament. Windsor played the game straight up and won in overtime to send the 'Cats home. Kootenay, due for a bounce-back game, should at least expect a honest effort from Saint John.
"The guys are pretty tired and we haven't had any chance to think about the game tomorrow," he said. "We came here to win four games, the three round-robin games and the final game so nothing's going to change. Little bit tired, big emotional win, but we've got to get them ready to play again."
DeSerres noted it's unlikely the Sea Dogs' team leaders would stand for a half-effort.
"We have a lot of character in our room," he said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).