The Moose Jaw Warriors will need three straight wins against the Western Hockey League regular-season champion Winnipeg Ice if they’re to keep their season alive after a tough home-ice loss in Game 4.
The Ice scored three goals in the second period and would go on to a 5-3 victory in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Warriors at Mosaic Place on Wednesday night.
As Winnipeg now leads the best-of-seven series three-games-to-one, Moose Jaw will need to win out the rest of the way, beginning Friday night when the series reverts to Winnipeg for Game 5.
“It’s do or die, the whole room knows that and it’s not a choice, we have to go out there and play a hard game, grind and work as hard as we can,” said Warriors forward Jagger Firkus, who finished the game with two goals and an assist. “We know we can do it and hopefully we can keep it going… we’re a resilient team, we put things behind us real quick and now we want to bounce back.”
Even with the loss, the contest was a far contrast from the two games the teams played in Winnipeg, with the Warriors turning in a similar showing to Game 3 where they generated a slew of chances. Difference being, this time the bounces weren’t quite there, and when they were, Ice goaltender Daniel Hauser was able to make many a big stop.
“I think we’d be really concerned if we weren’t getting any looks at all, but it was big for us to come home for a couple games and feel good about our offensive game,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “There are some things we need to clean up and the guys should be confident going into Friday that if we play the right way and play the way we can, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
That confidence will be well earned, too, especially since Game 4 could have had a far different outcome with a bit more finish on their side.
“I think if you look at the positives, I think we were the better team tonight,” O’Leary said. “There were some costly turnovers and they were stubborn going through the neutral zone, but besides that I thought we got enough looks tonight to win 7-5,”
The first period saw both teams with their share of chances, and both Warriors starter Jackson Unger and Hauser made big saves to keep things scoreless in the early going.
The Ice had the better openings courtesy of a trio of penalties in the frame, including a double minor for high sticking to Riley Niven that the Warriors not only killed off, but allowed only two shots in doing so.
Winnipeg would get on the board with 3:32 remaining in the period, though, when a defensive breakdown let Matthew Savoie find Mikey Milne alone in the slot, and he’d get off a shot high glove side to make it 1-0.
The Firkus Circus arrived in town before the first period was out, though, and it was a special one as the Warriors sniper took a feed from Ryder Korczak at the blueline, broke into the Winnipeg zone and got off a shot that beat Hauser low blocker side. The goal came with only 3.2 seconds left in the opening frame.
The Ice retook the lead 6:45 into the second period, and it was a product of their always-lethal transition game. A turnover at the Winnipeg blueline sent the Ice in on a 3-on-1, and Jack Finley roofed a pass from Owen Pederson to put the Winnipeg ahead.
The Warriors took a penalty shortly after puck drop, and after so many chances over the previous game-and-a-half, the Ice power play broke through. Pederson tipped a point shot by Ben Zloty 35 seconds after Finley’s goal and Winnipeg had a 3-1 edge.
It was Moose Jaw’s turn to get the power play on track with 6:51 to play in the period when Korczak stripped the puck from a Winnipeg defender along the boards and found Firkus all alone in the slot. A shot high blocker side later, and the Warriors were within one.
For 29 seconds.
Savoie restored the two-goal lead at 13:38, redirecting a shot by Milne in front of the Warriors' goal.
An offensive zone turnover led to Winnipeg’s next goal, with Cole Muir finishing off a 2-on-1 with Chase Wheatcroft from the Warriors blueline.
The Warriors got one back with 8:38 remaining in when Majid Kaddoura picked off a Winnipeg clearing attempt at the blueline, left the puck for Firkus and went to the net, and tipped Firkus’ shot past Hauser to make it a 5-3 game.
That would mark the end of scoring in the contest, and the Ice would have their three-games-to-one lead.
Unger finished with 26 saves on the night, Hauser stopped 30 shots.
Now, it’s all or nothing when Game 5 hits the ice on Friday night at Wayne Fleming Arena in Winnipeg
“I think we just have to go in their building and bring our own momentum, it’s in their barn and we just have to get to our game,” Firkus said. “In the second [period Wednesday] we weren’t playing our game, we weren’t getting on pucks hard and trying to create too much stuff, I think. We’ll look at it tomorrow and do everything we can to get better.”
A win in Winnipeg will see the series back in Moose Jaw on Sunday afternoon with a 4 p.m. start. Game 7, if necessary, will be back in Winnipeg on Tuesday.