Adam Tambellini was the overtime hero, saving the Calgary Hitmen from a potential two-game deficit on Sunday afternoon.
Tambellini managed to beat Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin glove side while down low in the face-off circle to end the second game of the series between the two teams at 3-2.
Earlier, on Friday evening, the Ice came out and stunned the Hitmen 4-3 in their own building to pick up the first win of the seven-game series.
Tambellini’s OT marker came after the two teams battled each other to a 2-2 tie over three periods of tight, intense hockey.
Sam Reinhart picked up his first goal of the playoffs, while Jaedon Descheneau potted his second. Calgary scoring was also provided by Pavel Karnaukhov, who notched a pair over the course of the game.
Hoflin made 30 saves during the game, including five stops in OT, while Brendan Burke and Mack Shields shared goaltending duties for the Hitmen, collectively making 35 saves.
Despite the loss on Sunday, Ice head coach Ryan McGill was happy with the effort from his team and said the game could’ve gone either way.
“I loved our competitive level. I think it’s easy for these kids to think that we got a game, we’re okay with the split,” said McGill.
“[But] I thought our competitive level in the second period was real good. Throughout the whole game, I thought it was good because it’s easy to say we got a game and lets just get back home.
“Our guys did a good job, we were right there.”
After a scoreless first period, Calgary jumped to the lead when Karnaukhov scored a powerplay goal, jumping on a juicy rebound on his backhand.
However, the Ice struck twice late in the frame in quick succession, as Reinhart notched his first of the 2015 post-season campaign, tipping a shot from D-man Rinat Valiev. Descheneau followed up minutes later, scoring after toe-dragging a Calgary defenceman and sneaking a shot underneath the arm of Burke.
Opening up the third period, Hitmen coach Mark French—in an unexpected move—replaced Burke with Mack Shields, who went unbeaten in 19 shots for the rest of the frame and OT.
At the 9:29 mark, Karnaukhov got his second of the night, finishing a backdoor play from Radel Fazleev that evened up the affair.
Despite outshooting Calgary 11-6 in OT, it was Tambellini’s effort that proved to be the game-winner.
Earlier, on Friday evening, the Ice got a four-goal effort—including a pair from Luke Philp, to steal the first win of the series at 4-3.
Jaedon Descheneau netted the game winner on a shorthanded goal, while Tyler King rounded out the scoring for the Ice.
Jake Bean, Kenton Helgesen and Connor Rankin replied for the Hitmen.
Hoflin stood between the pipes, turning away 29 shots for the win, with Hitmen Burke making 27 saves in defeat.
Kootenay won the special teams battle, scoring once in three opportunities with the man-advantage, while only giving up one goal on the penalty kill and adding a shorthanded effort to the scoresheet.
While Kootenay got the lead early on Friday, and never played from behind, the Ice had to play catch up on Sunday, coming back from an early one-goal deficit.
McGill said getting a lead is always good, but battling back from behind shows character.
“That’s important, but also the fact that they scored the first goal tonight [Sunday], I thought was really good of our team to come back and score again, obviously real quick, two goals real quick to get the lead going into the third,” said McGill. “It shows a lot about our team and the fact that we can play with a lead or without a lead.”
With some good early pressure, the Hitmen kept the Ice busy in their own zone for the opening five minutes or so.
However, when the Ice got their first real scoring opportunity, they made no mistake, with Philp putting home a rebound off a shot from Descheneau at the top of the face-off circle.
Seven minutes later, on Kootenay’s first powerplay, Philp teed up King at the blueline, who blasted a slap shot past Burke.
In the dying seconds of the period with a powerplay of their own, the Hitmen escaped with a one-goal deficit as Bean took a cross-ice feed and snuck a short-side shot past Hoflin.
After a furious second-period start from the Ice that included at least three quality scoring chances, the Hitmen were able to tie up the game as Helgesen slid a backhander past Hoflin after Radel Fazleev dangled around in the Kootenay zone.
But the Ice jumped ahead again with 2:43 remaining in the frame, and it was none other than Philp who banged home a slick behind the net feed from Matt Alfaro.
With Ryan Chynoweth in the box in the third period, Tanner Lishchynsky got the puck to Austin Vetterl in the neutral zone, who skated in on a shorthanded odd-man rush with Descheneau. Vetterl slid the puck over and Descheneau slid it past Burke for a two-goal lead.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Hitmen scrambled for a response and got one three minutes later when took advantage of a defensive zone turnover and beat Hoflin from the high slot.
Though Burke headed to the bench with just under a minute left in the game, the Ice held off the Hitmen in the dying seconds to claim the opening win.
Last year, the Ice overcame the Hitmen in the first round of the playoffs in six games, but that—according to McGill—is ancient history.
“We don’t bring any lessons from last year, we bring lessons from the last month and a half of the regular season,” said McGill.
The Ice host Game 3 on Tuesday evening at Western Financial Place.