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Warriors bounce back with huge win over Winnipeg in Game 3

Anderson scores game winner in third period as Moose Jaw takes 3-2 win over Ice to get back into Eastern Conference semifinal series

A few adjustments here and there, a lot more puck luck and -- most importantly -- home-ice advantage have all of a sudden made things very interesting in the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Winnipeg Ice.

After losing the first two games of the series by a combined score of 13-1, the Warriors looked like a far-improved team in Game 3 at Mosaic Place on Tuesday night. The final result showed just that, as the Warriors battled to a 3-2 victory in front of just over 2,500 fans.

Now, instead of a series that looked like it would be over in a hurry, things are decidedly different, with the Ice holding a two-games-to-one lead heading into a crucial Game 4 at Mosaic Place on Wednesday night.

“You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen, but I think through the course of the year we know what to expect from this team when our backs are up against the wall,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “When things get tough, it’s basically ‘rise to the occasion’, and that’s what we saw tonight. It makes it fun as a coach to know you’re going to at least get the effort and compete consistently.”

The Warriors were able to consistently frustrate the Ice attempts to work their way inside and create scoring chances while using their work ethic to open opportunities at the other end of the ice.

That was all a product of preparation, as explained by game-winning goal scorer Calder Anderson.

“Before the game, we were looking at some video and the games in Winnipeg we were giving up a lot on the inside and weren’t getting much on the inside as well,” he said. “So we just had to get inside more on the d-men and just hound pucks and I thought we did a great job of that tonight.”

Anderson’s goal came with 9:42 gone in the third period and in stunning fashion at that -- with the Warriors killing a double-minor, a turnover at the blueline sent Cordel Larson and Anderson in on a two-on-one break, and Anderson would finish things off to give Moose Jaw a 3-1 lead at the time.

The shorthanded goal was almost fitting given how well the Warriors' penalty kill played throughout the game, as they killed off 19 minutes in total, including a second-period charging major to Robert Baco.

“I think they’ve really taken pride in that,” O’Leary said of the penalty kill. “You look at our line-up, there are guys who have certain responsibilities whether it’s on the power play or the penalty kill and they’ve taken responsibility for that role… We didn’t like the first goal we gave up, there was a detail issue there, but after that we took pride in the details and it was a really big part of the win tonight for sure.”

Much like Game 2, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the game’s first minute. And like Game 2, it would still be Winnipeg who opened scoring.

A penalty only 2:31 into the game snuffed out Moose Jaw’s momentum and Zach Benson would make the Warriors pay, finishing off some nice puck movement in the zone to open scoring at 3:37.

Moose Jaw got that one back moments after killing off the major. After forcing a turnover at the blueline, Ryder Korczak and Jagger Firkus went in on a 2-on-1, with Firkus eventually getting off a shot that beat Winnipeg goaltender Daniel Hauser low glove side. The goal came with 7:48 gone in the frame and was Moose Jaw’s first goal since late in Game 1.

Winnipeg began to press as the period continued, though, and Warriors starter Jackson Unger ended up having to be sharp, first making a post-to-post stop on Mikey Milne and then robbing a wide-open Benson at the top of the crease seconds later,

All told, Unger would finish the game with 38 saves in his first start of the post-season.

“It was amazing,” the 16-year-old rookie said. “I had a lot of nerves coming into this game, we were looking for a really good bounceback and I thought we really showed that tonight. We dominated most of the game, we had a lot of good chances, we shut them down inside and kept them to the outside, it was really good.”

The score stood tied 1-1 until 3:12 of the third, when Eric Alarie finished off a slick passing play in the Winnipeg zone with Firkus and Korczak by getting off a shot from the bottom of the face-off circle that eluded Hauser.

The Warriors had a couple of chances to put the game away late with long-range shots that missed the empty net, and Winnipeg would get one back with a minute remaining. Connor McClennon got a shot off from the point and Jack Finley tipped it home to make for a tense final 60 seconds

That would mark the end of scoring on the night, though, and the Warriors had their critical win.

Game 4 is now set for Wednesday at Mosaic Place, and Moose Jaw is taking much the same approach as they have all playoffs.

“Reset,” O’Leary said matter-of-factly. “We talked about it a lot in the first round, when you win a game there’s no momentum being carried over. We’ve established that, so we’ll look to start fast tomorrow, establish our game, feel good about ourselves and roll from there.”

Game time is 7 p.m., with tickets on sale a the box office and online at www.mjwarriors.ca.