Two series down, two to go. The Windsor Spitfires are one step closer to an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) title opportunity after eliminating the Kitchener Rangers in a dramatic 3-2 win in Game 5 on Saturday night, taking the Western Conference Semi-Final series 4-1.
The top-seeded Spitfires know what they were capable of. They won the Western Conference in the regular season, had a 13-game winning streak near the end of the season, and led the league in goals scored with 305. In the first round, they knocked out the eighth-seeded Sarnia Sting in six games and came into Game 5 leading the resilient seventh-seeded Rangers 3-1. While you could argue that they haven’t played to their full potential, they’re a calm, confident bunch that simply goes about their business. However, the visitors were down 3-1 to the second-seeded Knights in the first round and beat them in Game 7. They weren’t going down without an ugly fight.
Game 5 was a beast so let’s break it down.
Spitfires Find a Way
At this point, nothing should surprise you with this Spitfires club. Coming into Game 5, they had spotted the Rangers a lead in every game this series, yet always found a way. Some were 1-0, others were 2-0, but head coach Marc Savard didn’t let them quit. Saturday night at the WFCU Centre was no different.
In front of 4,470 fans, the Spitfires hit the ice, hoping to avoid the dreaded trip back up the 401 to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium for Game 6. However, history repeated itself early.
In the first period, the visitors opened the scoring thanks to a pair of goals that deflected or bounced off someone right in front of goaltender Mathias Onuska. There wasn’t much he could do and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead after 20.
Cue the comeback.
The home side went on a tear in the second, outshooting the Rangers 20-4 and made the most out of their chances. Defenceman Louka Henault buried the first goal glove side midway through and he was followed by Renwick roofing a shot glove side with seconds left in the period. A tie game heading into the final 20 minutes gave the Spitfires all the momentum they needed.
In the final frame, the Spitfires pressed the issue and earned a power play with 10 minutes remaining. That’s where Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) found Andrew Perrott, who wired it blocker side on Cajan for the 3-2 lead.
The Rangers put everything they could on Onuska in the final 10 minutes, but he slammed the door as the seconds ticked off the clock and the final buzzer sounded. The Spitfires took Game 5 with a 3-2 win, eliminating the Rangers 4-1.
Now the big question for the Spitfires – how far can they go?
OHL Conference Finals Are Set
While the Spitfires were taking care of business on Saturday night, they had one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard, too.
In Flint, MI, the third-seeded Firebirds were at home to battle the fourth-seeded Soo Greyhounds, leading their series 3-1. On paper, this should have been a seven-game showdown. Unfortunately for the Greyhounds, it just wasn’t meant to be. The Firebirds took Game 5 with a convincing 7-1 win, ending the series 4-1.
This sets up the OHL’s Western Conference Final between the Spitfires and Firebirds for the right to hoist the Wayne Gretzky Trophy for the Conference Champion. It’s the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since the Firebirds moved from Plymouth, MI in 2015 (then known as the Whalers). The clubs met numerous times prior to that, though, and we’ll get into an in-depth preview soon.
The OHL’s Eastern Conference Final is set, too. The top-seeded Hamilton Bulldogs will face off against the second-seeded North Bay Battalion in what should be nothing short of a classic. The clubs split their regular season head-to-head matches, were a combined 22-0-1-1 to end the season, and have a combined 16-1 record in the playoffs. The winners of the two series will face off for the OHL title with that winner heading to Saint John, NB for the Memorial Cup later in June.
After not winning a playoff series for 11 years, the Spitfires are riding high. Saturday’s win at home was not only crucial for the players but for the City of Windsor, too. Getting to experience the thrilling win was something fans won’t soon forget. Let’s see how long the club can keep this going; they deserve it and so does the city.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.