The Windsor Spitfires are in new territory. The top-seeded team in the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Western Conference finds themselves one loss away from elimination after losing 4-3 to the third-seeded Flint Firebirds in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday.
During the 2021-22 regular season, the Spitfires dominated the conference, leading the league in goals (305), earning a 13-game winning streak near the end, and showing that nothing was going to stop them. They faced injuries, suspensions, and multiple COVID-19 postponements but kept pressing and refusing to back down. However, after two tough playoff series, they now face their biggest challenge of the season as the Firebirds have them one game away from elimination. Fortunately, their biggest issue is something only they can control.
Let’s unpack a wild game 5.
Spitfires’ Issues Resurface in Game 5
When you’re the top seed, you don’t often give up leads. However, in this series, the Spitfires have had multi-goal leads in Games 2, 3, and 4, and let the Firebirds back into each one. It’s become frustrating but nothing they can’t solve.
Game 5 started off promising. The Spitfires went straight after goaltender Luke Cavallin with 18 shots in the first period, capitalizing on goals from Wyatt Johnston and Alex Christopoulos for a 2-0 lead. However, once again, it fell apart.
While short-handed with just over a minute left in the period, Firebirds’ captain Brennan Othmann picked off a pass from Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle and buried it past goaltender Mathias Onuska. Things then went from bad to worse as Zacharie Giroux scored with three seconds left to tie it 2-2 after 20.
Last-minute goals will swing momentum and the Firebirds pounced in the second. A pair of goals off poor defensive coverage gave them a 4-2 lead and had the Spitfires scrambling. Cuylle did his best to rally the troops, scoring on the power play before the period ended for a 4-3 deficit.
In the third, the home side outshot the visitors 15-3 but Cavallin was a rock and his defence blocked as much rubber as they could. The buzzer sounded and, despite the Spitfires leading 45-19 in shots, the Firebirds come away with a huge 4-3 win and 3-2 series lead.
Post-game, Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard said they played well but, when you give them chances, it’s another learning lesson.
“We came out again, as we have with every game, and been very good early,” he said.
“It’s frustrating but these are learning lessons along the way and it’s the first to four (wins). Besides what we gave them, we played a good hockey game.”
Game 5 Scoring Summary
Windsor – Wyatt Johnston (11) from Christopher O’Flaherty and Michael Renwick – 11:14
Windsor – Alex Christopoulos (7) from Andrew Perrott and Will Cuylle – 16:23
Flint – Brennan Othmann (9) from Simon Slavicek (short-handed) – 18:37
Flint – Zacharie Giroux (6) from James Mayott and Brennan Othmann – 19:57
Flint – Amadeus Lombardi (7) from Brennan Othmann and Luca D’Amato – 3:04
Flint – Tag Bertuzzi (5) from Zacharie Giroux and Sahil Panwar – 7:43
Windsor – Will Cuylle (10) from Wyatt Johnston and Louka Henault (power play) – 16:19
Spitfires Prepare for Do-or-Die Game 6
It’s now very simple for the Spitfires – Game 6 is Tuesday night at the Dort Financial Center in Flint. A win and the series comes back home for Game 7 on Wednesday. A loss and Firebirds take on the Hamilton Bulldogs for the OHL title.
Savard and his club have been in tough situations all season. They’ve handled them well but now they have to learn how to maintain their leads. The Spitfires have constantly outshot the Firebirds but the underdogs are an experienced club that will capitalize on every chance. Unless the favourites want to be watching the OHL Final on television, they need to figure this out.
The Spitfires were also dealt a big question mark on Sunday regarding Onuska.
During the second period, he looked uncomfortable after giving up a puck at the side of his net, which the Firebirds promptly scored on. He went straight to the room with veteran Xavier Medina taking the crease for his first playoff action. Rookie Kyle Downey grabbed the backup spot on the bench. After the game, Savard said Onuska had an issue and is listed as day-to-day.
“It’s day-to-day right now. We have to check with him,” he said.
“The doctors are looking at him. Right now, we don’t know … We were going to make the change, anyway, as we knew there was an issue. He didn’t feel great so, right away, he knew, I knew, everybody knew. We made the change. Proud that he tried to work through it. He knew he couldn’t go anymore and X (Medina) was ready to go and I thought X did a great job.”
Whether Medina or Onuska takes the crease, the Spitfires are a confident group heading into Tuesday.
“I believe in our group,” Savard said.
“We’re going to be fine here. Our backs have been against the wall three times in the playoffs and we’ve answered the bell. I might not even do a pre-game speech.”
Game time on Tuesday is 7:00 p.m.
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.