It’s tough to call Game 4 “do-or-die” when the series is 2-1, but that might be what the Windsor Spitfires are facing Thurs night.
After a heartbreaking loss in Game 3 Tuesday night, in which the Sarnia Sting scored three goals during a four-minute span in the third period, the Spitfires face a fork in the road. They could go left and focus on the future or they could go right, tying the series at two and force a Game 6 at home this weekend. The right option seems easy enough but is it possible? Given what the fans have seen to this point, absolutely.
The Spitfires’ Story So Far
The Spitfires came into this series with nothing to lose. They’re young and the Sting were expected to walk all over them. Only a miraculous effort from goaltender Michael DiPietro could save a game or two.
DiPietro shined in the opener last Friday in Sarnia, turning away all but two Sting shots. His counter wasn’t as lucky, as the Spitfires poured six goals on goaltender Justin Fazio. The Spitfires got timely goaltending and were opportunistic with the puck. A win is a win and nobody from Windsor was going to argue.
Game 2 was mostly the same, with DiPietro making 48 saves. Fazio, though, was just as solid and got the Sting a 4-1 win. What did fans expect in Game 3 in Windsor? The crowd of 3,432, including a healthy mixture of Sting fans who made the trek, were in for a battle and they got their money’s worth.
Both the Spitfires and Sting knew how big the game was and it showed in the opening 20 minutes. It took into the second frame before anyone solved a goaltender. The teams traded goals in the second period – Sting, Spitfires, Spitfires, Sting, Spitfires. The seat edges were worn out. This was playoff hockey at its finest. Nobody knew what would happen next. The Spitfires were happy, though, with a 3-2 lead going into the third.
Protecting the lead is something the Spitfires have done numerous times this season. However, when you’re playing an offensive dynamo like the Sting, it’s not always a good option. The Sting knew that if they shot enough rubber on DiPietro, he had to break. They peppered him and, before long, the floodgates opened.
A Sting goal with four minutes remaining stopped the Spitfires in their tracks. Momentum is a strange beast in hockey and the Sting rolled with it, scoring three times in the final four minutes. A 3-2 Spitfires lead was history and the Spitfires’ faithful were stunned.
Fazio, his teammates and their fans counted down the seconds until the final buzzer sounded. There was nothing left for the Spitfires to do but figure out what went wrong. The final score was 5-3 for the Sting, with a 2-1 series lead.
Pivotal Hockey Night Awaits
When the trade deadline hit, the Spitfires stocked up on youth and picks instead of veterans. They hit heavy turbulence but were able to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs. Their heart was never in question. It was just a matter of inexperience.
Coming into Game 4, it would be easy for the Spitfires to pack it in. They’re a young group, have been outshot 139-65 through three games and are battling a team that’s built to dominate in the post-season. Prior to the series, the prediction was the Sting winning in five games.
What good does packing it in do, though? The Sting are only halfway there and the Spits still have a prayer. Their veterans have stepped up and their rookies are playing like veterans.
Despite the shot clock, the Spitfires haven’t been out of any game. They also have ten goals on 65 shots through three games and the plan for Game 4 should be simple: be aggressive and get the puck on Fazio. When you’re aggressive on the forecheck, it’s less time for the Sting to be aggressive on their own forecheck. Right now, the Spits have nothing to lose by taking some risks around Fazio.
Plus, the kid in the Spitfires’ crease is pretty good. Through three games, DiPietro has a save percentage of .939, tops in the league. While the Sting have beat him, there isn’t another goaltender the Spitfires would rather have back there in crunch time.
Regroup, Reload and Regain Control
The Spitfires didn’t rest on Wednesday. They learned, examined and prepared. Now, the focus should be on a full 60-minutes of hockey. No excuses. The Sting are preparing to end this series at home on Friday night in Game 5. With a potential Game 6 on Sunday afternoon back in Windsor, Spitfires head coach Trevor Letwoski and his team would love to have Easter dinner delayed by a couple of hours.
Odds haven’t been in the Spitfires’ favour since the trade deadline in January. Maybe that’s the way it should be. When you have nothing to lose, you can afford to take risks. The puck is in the Spitfires’ end. If they want a busy weekend, they know what to do. Game 4 is tonight at 7:05 pm at the WFCU Centre. This is a ride that’s worth the price of admission.