The Red Deer Vipers did everything in their power to get the jump on the Airdrie Thunder in the first period of Wednesday’s Heritage Junior Hockey League playoff game at the Arena.
Everything but score.
The Vipers carried the play through most of the opening 20 minutes, outshooting their guests 18-9. But Thunder forward Dylan McCuaig scored the lone goal of the period, one-timing a rebound off the end boards past Red Deer netminder Cole Sears and the visitors went on to a post a 4-2 victory and knot the best-of-seven Northern Division semifinal 3-3.
Game 7 goes Friday at 8 p.m. at Airdrie.
“For some reason we can’t seem the get the bounces in the first period,” said Vipers head coach JD Morrical. “This was the best start we’ve had at home the whole series, but we just couldn’t find the net.
“The bounces weren’t going our way and they get a … I shouldn’t say a lucky goal, they worked hard for it. But a bounce off the back boards and they’re up 1-0. It was a tough first. If a couple of things would have went our way it would have been a different game.”
Instead, Clay Murray potted a power-play marker to up the count to 2-0 at 12:28 of the middle frame and Mark Kunitz — just seconds after Red Deer’s Dustin Spearing broke in alone and was denied by Thunder netminder Kade Tappin — broke down the right wing and beat Sears high to the glove side at 19:43.
The Vipers battled back in the third period when Spencer Yeats buried his own rebound at 10:05 and drew within a single goal when Tye Munro deflected Jon Finnigan’s power play point shot past Tappin at 18:10.
With Sears pulled in favour of an extra attacker, the Vipers pressed for the equalizer. But Parker Georgsen sealed the deal with an empty-net goal at 18:36, just seconds after the hosts rang a shot off the post.
“This is kind of the way it’s been going the whole series. We’ve been up, they’ve tied it, we’ve gone up and they’ve tied it … and now it’s Game 7,” said Morrical. “If the trend continues we should win on the road.
“The teams are very, very close. The second game was the biggest spread, it was 7-4 with two empty-netters. Then we beat them 6-4 and we had an empty-netter. It’s been back and forth, we’ve had leads, they’ve had leads. For some reason neither team can put it together at home and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Tappin made 36 saves for the win, while Sears turned aside 29 shots. The Vipers netminder came up with a series of timely saves in the second period, including a breakaway stop on Chase O’Bray and a save on a deflected point shot.