One loss and a huge win. That's the story of Games 3 and 4 of the Humboldt Broncos' series against the Melfort Mustangs in the first round of playoffs.
In Game 3, played in Melfort on Tuesday, March 8, the Broncos suffered a frustrating 4-0 loss.
Though Mustang Bo Lenard was out for the first of three games - he was suspended after spitting on one of the Humboldt Broncos during Game 2 in Humboldt on March 6 - the Broncos still couldn't find their mojo.
Sean Aschim scored Melfort's first goal on the power play at 2:03 of the first, assisted by Brayden Metz. Then Brody Haygarth added another point, again on the power play at 5:39 of the first. Metz and Aschim got the assists.
Rounding out the first period on the scoreboard, Spencer Mault scored Melfort's third goal - their first at even-strength - at 10:42. Aschim again got the assist.
All of the second period and most of the third went by before the Mustangs added another goal to their tally. Metz got Melfort's fourth and final goal of the night at 16:44, assisted by Regan Nabseth and Connor Bradshaw.
The real action in the game was not around the net. It was around the penalty box. Once again, penalties abounded throughout the game, though this time most were handed to Broncos, not Mustangs.
Humboldt gave Melfort some early power plays with penalties for tripping and elbowing in the first minutes of the game.
The Broncos got a short power play when Sterling Bear was boxed for roughing for two minutes at 6:21, and two more when Owen Roschuk served two minutes for boarding at 11:47, then another two minutes for high sticking at 4:43 of the second period. But there were unable to capitalize on any of them.
There was a distinct lack of power plays in the second period, as the penalties handed out went evenly to both teams.
High sticking, roughing, slashing, hooking and even holding the stick calls were made throughout the second period.
In the third is when the fights started breaking out.
Bronco Chase Wharton got five minutes for fighting at 10:44 of the third. The Mustang he tangled with, Sterling Bear, got a roughing penalty at the same time, along with five minutes for fighting, two for instigating and a game misconduct.
It was at the 20-minute mark of the period when things really broke loose.
Skating past the Melfort bench, Bronco Gabe Minville speared one of the Melfort Mustangs, which caused their bench to erupt. One of the players grabbed Minville's stick and broke it.
This resulted in a plethora of penalties to both teams.
Minville got four minutes for spearing at the 20-minute mark, and Mustang Jesse Mireau received a gross misconduct. He was later suspended for two games.
Brant Henry-Norton served a two-minute bench penalty for the coach and got a game misconduct. Minville of the Broncos received four minutes for spearing and a 10-minute misconduct.
"We blew it in the first 10 minutes," was how Bronco head coach Dean Brockman saw Game 3.
"We gave up three goals and just couldn't recover."
The altercation at the end of the game, Brockman added, was the first time his team had showed any sort of emotion in the series. But that changed the next night.
Compared to Game 4, played March 10 at home at the Elgar Petersen Arena, Game 3 was "a yawn-fest," Brockman believes.
Loud fans cheering for both teams ensured that the arena was jumping as the players faced off on Thursday night.
That energy translated to great action on the ice, with highs and lows throughout the game and a nailbiter of a final period.
Overlapping penalties got the Mustangs into trouble early in the first period, giving the Broncos not only the power play, but a five-on-three advantage for over two and a half minutes of the period. Sterling Bear, Carter Berg and Adam Wihak all served two minutes for slashing at 8:15, 8:50 and 8:53 of the first.
The Broncos took advantage of that edge. Brett Pisio sent the puck flying through the legs of Mustang goalie Charles Corsi to get their first goal of the night on a power play at 9:35, assisted by Dayton Shaw and Matt Glowa.
Humboldt then added an insurance goal when the teams were at even strength at 12:34, scored by Neil Landry, and assisted by Adam Antkowiak.
But the Mustangs are not a team to go down without a fight. They battled back to tie the game with goals at 13:43 and 17:20, the latter on a power play of their own.
In the second, the Mustangs came out hot, scoring two goals in the first two minutes to take a 4-2 lead.
Undaunted, the Broncos continued to work, and in the latter part of the period, it paid off. Pisio got his second goal of the night at 12:06, assisted by Pat Tran, to put Humboldt within one. Just over a minute later, Greg Ferguson tied the game with a goal assisted by Gabe Minville and Kameren Ballas at 13:21.
With the score tied at four, the pace picked up again and it was Bronco Taylor Johnson who put his team ahead again with a textbook top-shelf goal at 15:03. Ferguson and Troy Gasper got the assists.
In the third period, the Mustangs again poured on the juice and tied the game at five with a goal at 3:14, shot over the body of Bronco goaltender Andrew Bodnarchuk, who was off his skates at the time.
The rest of the third period was tense and hard-hitting. As the seconds ticked away, fans were preparing for overtime when the Mustangs suddenly caved to pressure from the Broncos in their end, allowing Humboldt's sixth goal with just 11.6 seconds left on the clock.
Johnson was again responsible for the go-ahead goal, assisted by Ferguson.
Trouble with the clock had fans and the team celebrating a little early, but once time finally did run out, the Broncos remained ahead, 6-5, tying the series 2-2.
The three stars of the game were Broncos Johnson, Pisio and Nathan Hudema.
"It was Jekyll and Hyde from the game before," Brockman said afterwards.
"We showed a lot of energy. We showed how hard we can work," he noted, though the game was a good way to give a coach a heart attack.
There were so many ups and downs, as a fan, it was likely pretty exciting to watch, he added.
That last goal was key, Brockman felt, not only because it gave them a win, but because it prevented overtime.
"We're down a couple of guys due to injuries, and we were running out of juice," he said.
The Game 4 win was huge, he noted, for if the Broncos lost, they would have to win three in a row to take the series, and that is tough to do.
The loud rink was great for the players, he added.
"The guys feed off of it."