After a great start to their OHL Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series versus the Mississauga Steelheads, the Oshawa Generals dropped two straight games, and found themselves in the unenviable position of having to win of Thursday night to avoid falling behind three games to one. For much of the first three games of the series, the Generals were unable to solve the puzzle in front of them, as the Steelheads controlled nearly every aspect of the games. If not for the stellar play of Jeremy Brodeur in game one, Thursday night’s contest could have easily seen the Gens facing elimination.
Both teams had to make changes to their lineups after game three, as some discipline was handed down by the Ontario Hockey League following that game. Mississauga’s Shaw Boomhower was handed a two-game suspension after taking a charging penalty on a hit delivered on Kenny Huether, a top-scorer for Oshawa who also did not play, still suffering from the results of the blow.
The Generals were also without rookie forward Serron Noel, as he was also handed a two-game suspension, handed down automatically after he took a match penalty for slew-footing in the third period of game three. Both Boomhower and Noel will be eligible to rejoin their teams if the series goes to game six, scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Mississauga, but the Generals would need one more victory in order to ensure that game takes place.
The missing Generals allowed for both Sullivan Sparkes and Grayden Gottschalk to return to the lineup, both of whom were playing for the first time since the final weekend of the regular season nearly one month ago. For Gottschalk, the game would be his first OHL playoff contest, while Sparkes dressed for one game with Oshawa last season versus Kingston.
The Steelheads have outshot the Generals badly over the first three games of the series, but in game four, it was Oshawa who had the majority of shots throughout the opening period, but were unable to solve Matthew Mancina in goal for the Steelheads for a fourth straight game.
Fresh off of a hat trick in game three, Spencer Watson got the scoring started late in the first period, as he corralled a rebound in front of Jeremy Brodeur and got the puck past the Oshawa netminder to put the Steelheads in front with less than two minutes remaining in the frame.
Midway through the second, a brief defensive lapse by Oshawa allowed the Steelheads to double their lead, as Stefan LeBlanc sprung Jacob Cascagnette on a partial break. The Mississauga forward made no mistake firing a shot just under the bar for his third goal of the series, putting the Steelheads up 2-0.
Shortly after, Mississauga struck for another, as Watson zipped a backhand past Brodeur that made it a 3-0 game for the Steelheads. The goal was Watson’s fifth over his last five periods, giving him ten so far in the playoffs, good enough to lead all players in the OHL. The goal would end the night for Brodeur, who would be replaced by Kyle Keyser in the Oshawa goal.
Keyser, who was returning to the lineup Thursday after missing game three with an injury, would fare little better, as the Steelheads kept pouring on the pressure. Owen Tippett would be the next one to get in on the scoring, following a fantastic solo rush that saw him dance around Gens defender Matt Brassard before outwaiting the outstretched Keyser to make it 4-0.
After being outshot 19-4 in the middle stanza, the Generals faced a monumental deficit, down four goals to start the third, but Oshawa was able to get the start they wanted when Mason Kohn beat Mancina with a bad angle shot just 39 seconds in, cutting the Steelheads lead to three.
The Gens were given a huge opportunity to get back into the game when Austin Osmanski hit an unsuspecting Renars Krastenbergs, who was without the puck. Osmanski was given a five-minute major penalty for a check to the head of Oshawa’s Latvian import, earning himself a game misconduct in the process.
Oshawa would get one more goal back on the ensuing powerplay, as Medric Mercier finally connected for his first goal of the playoffs, ripping a shot from the high circle that beat Mancina. Mercier, who led all OHL defencemen in powerplay goals during the regular season, had gone 13 games without scoring, his last goal coming in a two-goal performance versus Kingston on March 11th.
After killing a penalty of their own, the Generals powerplay would go back to work with seven minutes remaining, and Mercier would connect yet again, his second goal in a seven-minute span cutting what was once a four-goal lead for Mississauga to a single marker.
Despite putting on heavy pressure over the final five minutes, Oshawa could get no closer, as the Steelheads outlasted the Generals with icing call after icing call during the final two minutes, as Keyser sat on the bench for an extra attacker. Mississauga would hold on for a 4-3 victory, taking a three games to one stranglehold on this series after back-to-back wins at the Tribute Communities Centre.
The Generals will now face elimination for the first time in these playoffs on Saturday, as they host game five in a matinee game scheduled for 2:05 p.m. The Steelheads will look to close out the series with one more win in Oshawa, but they will have three opportunities to finish off the Generals if needed. Should Oshawa avoid elimination on Saturday, the series will shift back to Mississauga for game six on Sunday afternoon, with game seven scheduled for Tuesday night if needed.
FEATURED PHOTO: Steelheads players surround Owen Tippett after his second-period goal versus Oshawa on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Mississauga defeated the Generals 4-3 to take a 3-1 series lead in the OHL Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. (Photo: RogersTV screengrab)
Anthony Nicholson is Managing Editor of The Oshawa Times, and will be covering the Oshawa Generals in addition to various events around Durham. Anthony has covered the OHL since 2008 as Sports & Entertainment Editor for the N24 News Network and former colour commentator for Generals radio broadcasts. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.