The effort is there, just not the results. Now the Mississauga Steelheads find themselves with no room for error.
Quinton Byfield scored twice and David Levin and Blake Murray each had a goal and assist to help the Sudbury Wolves put the Steelheads on the brink of playoff elimination with a 5-3 victory, Mar. 24, at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga.
The Wolves now lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, 3-0, and can complete the sweep with a win Mar. 27 back in Mississauga.
For the Steelheads, who fell 5-2 and 3-2 in overtime in the opening two games of the series in Sudbury, now it’s all about finding a way to stay alive.
“If we were getting beat badly in all three games I could say that we were pretty much done, stick a fork in us,” said Mississauga head coach James Richmond, who feels his club has been right there with a Sudbury team that came in as the clear favourites. “We played 12-13 minutes of bad hockey in Game 1 and then we played a pretty good game. In Game 2 we were the better team and tonight we were real good, but bounces.
“In playoffs you got to work harder to make those bounces, but they get some pretty good bounces (and) one at the end. So we’ve got to be better. Our backs our against the wall. We win one, we stay alive.”
Cole Candella, with a shorthanded empty-netter, had the other goal for the Wolves, who finished fourth in the conference and 20 points ahead of the fifth place Steelheads.
Cole Schwindt, Liam Ham and Nick McHugh scored for Mississauga, which also got a two assists from Thomas Harley.
Sudbury goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was his usual stellar self in goal, kicking aside 39 shots. The Steelheads are going to have to find a way to beat the Buffalo Sabres prospect if they want to extend the series on Wednesday night.
“He’s going to stop many things that he sees, so you got to get bodies in front of him,” Ham said of Luukkonen, who led Finland to a gold medal at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships. “You got to throw everything at the net.
“(In) playoffs weird bounces happen, you saw a couple tonight, so you got to stick to it.”
The Steelheads pushed hard for the equalizer in the third period, but Luukkonen would stop all 15 shots he faced in the frame. Schwindt hit the post and Mississauga had numerous scrambles in front, but it was close as they would come.
“He back-boned Finland to a gold medal at the world juniors,” Richmond said Luukkonen. “We’ve got some stuff on him. We’re doing a pretty good job, but let’s give the kid credit. He’s a hell of a goalie, so we’ll just keep plugging away.
“Our guys are going pretty good, so if we win one then we stay alive. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not trying to win the series on Wednesday. We’re trying to stay alive.”
Game time for Game 4 is 7 p.m.
photo: Liam Ham and the Mississauga Steelheads find themselves facing a series sweep at the hands of the Sudbury Wolves after a 5-3 loss, Mar. 24, at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre. Terry Wilson/OHL Images