The top-seeded Windsor Spitfires have finally ended their first-round drought. After disappointment in Game 5 on Saturday night, the club threw everything they had at the eighth-seeded Sarnia Sting on Sunday, eliminating their rivals in Game 6 and ending years of frustration in the process.
Coming into the first round of the 2022 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Western Conference Playoffs, the Spitfires didn’t know what to expect. They had all kinds of talent and were ranked sixth in Canada, but hadn’t won a playoff series since 2011. It felt like a bit of a curse. However, they led the league in goals (305) and had won 13-of-15, giving fans hope that maybe this was the season. That came in handy against a young, feisty Sting club that had the talent and drive to scare the favourite. This was one for the ages.
Let’s get down to business…
Spitfires Make History in Game 6
After splitting Games 3 and 4 in Sarnia last week, the Spitfires returned home for Game 5 on Saturday up 3-1. While it was a hard-fought battle, the visitors prevailed 3-2 in overtime, sending the series to a Game 6 on Sunday in Sarnia.
The teams came out in Game 6 as if it was overtime in Game 7. Neither gave an inch but the Spitfires would find a way to get on the board first. Forward Josh Currie buried one glove side on Sting goaltender Ben Gaudreau (San Jose Sharks) for the 1-0 lead in the first. Soon after, Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) went blocker side to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
While the Spitfires increased the pressure in the second, Gaudreau matched them. He made acrobatic saves while his team tried everything they could to beat Matt Onuska on the other end. Neither goaltender blinked, though, and the score remained 2-0 until late in the third.
With 94 seconds left in the game, Sting forward Nolan Dunn finally beat Onuska on the power play to cut the lead to 2-1. It was all hands on deck as the home side pulled Gaudreau for the extra attacker and created havoc for the visitors.
As hard as the Sting tried, it wasn’t enough. Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) sent the puck 150 feet into the open cage with five seconds left to make it 3-1, take the series 4-2, and finally, end the drought.
After the last two years of COVID-19 chaos and 11 years of dashed hopes, this is a celebration the City of Windsor needed.
A Rough Decade For Spitfires’ Fans
Let’s take a step back and put all of this into perspective.
The last time the Spitfires won a first-round matchup was 2011 when they beat the Erie Otters in Game 7. Tom Kuhnhackl scored the game-winner. Since then, the club has made the playoffs six times. They’ve been swept three times while losing in five, six, or seven games once each. Their latest defeat was to the Sting in six games in 2018; the Spitfires were the sixth seed that season.
They’ve had the teams to get the job done but even the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup championship roster lost in Game 7 to the London Knights. For one reason or another, they couldn’t get over the hill. That’s why winning this series was nothing short of a relief.
Related: 4 Years Later: Revisiting Windsor Spitfires’ 2017 Memorial Cup
It was also no surprise that Spitfires’ fans have been skeptics since the season started. You can do whatever you want in the regular season but if you can’t break the drought, does it really matter in the end? It was an understandable question for many seasons. Now, we will see how far they can take this momentum, both in this season’s playoffs and beyond.
Spitfires Wait for Next Opponent
After years of waiting, the Spitfires finally get to ask that all-important question – “Who’s next?” Unfortunately, the answer is still up in the air.
As the top seed in the Western Conference, the club will face the lowest remaining seed after the first round is completed. As of Sunday night, the other conference series look like this:
- 2. London Knights lead 7. Kitchener Rangers 3-2 with Game 6 on Tuesday and Game 7 on Wednesday.
- 3. Flint Firebirds lead 6. Owen Sound Attack 3-2 with Game 6 on Tuesday and Game 7 on Wednesday.
- 4. Soo Greyhounds defeat 5. Guelph Storm 4-1.
If all of the top seeds advance, the Spitfires will battle the rival Greyhounds in the second round. If either of the lower seeds pulls the upset (which is quite possible), the lowest seed will be their next opponent. Until we have an answer, head coach Marc Savard and his staff will get them healthy, prepared, and keeping an eye on the scoreboard. It’s a nice spot to be in after a decade of frustration.
Ticket information, schedule, and much more will be available once we know the opponent. Enjoy this win, Spitfires fans. You’ve earned it!