Things started well enough for the Oshawa Generals in the 2017 Eastern Conference Semi-Final series, as they rode a 50-save performance from Jeremy Brodeur to a game one victory. Since that game, however, the series has been overwhelmingly one-sided, and the Mississauga Steelheads had stormed back to win three straight games, the last two in Oshawa, to take a three games to one series lead.
On Saturday afternoon, the Generals would face an elimination game in these 2017 playoffs for the first time, needing a win at the TCC to force game six back in Mississauga on Sunday afternoon. If they were to pick up that much needed victory, they would have to do so without their regular number one goaltender, the player solely responsible for Oshawa being in the position they were in this season.
In a highly questionable decision, Generals coach Bob Jones chose to sit his overage netminder Brodeur on the bench for what could be his final OHL game, turning instead to the unproven Kyle Keyser in goal. Keyser, who has proven over the season to be a valuable backup goaltender to Brodeur, had never started an OHL playoff game before Saturday afternoon, but will likely take over from Brodeur as the team’s starting goaltender as of next season.
Looking to take advantage of the situation, the Steelheads attacked the Oshawa net with vigour over the opening twenty minutes on Saturday afternoon, firing shot after shot at Keyser to see if they could shake the confidence of an inexperienced keeper with an early goal. To his credit, Keyser was solid, especially in that opening period, as he made a number of key saves to keep Mississauga at bay.
While Keyser was doing his part to keep the Generals in game five, the players in front of him were doing themselves no favours, as they continued to struggle to test Matthew Mancina in goal for the Steelheads. Mississauga outshot the Gens 16-9 in the opening stanza, with Oshawa registering a paltry two shots on goal in five-on-five action. For a team that should be playing like there was no tomorrow, their play at full-strength showed once again how badly they were overmatched during the series.
Keyser continued to stymie the Steelheads in the first half of period two, keeping the game knotted at zeroes until midway through the frame, when Mississauga finally found a chink in his armour. At the time when Stefan LeBlanc scored to give his club the lead, the Generals will still in search of their first shot of the period, having gone nine minutes without testing Mancina.
Mississauga would double their lead before the end of the period, after a nice play by the Steelheads to create a turnover resulted in a fantastic shot from Trent Fox beating Keyser short-side over his glove. The snipe would put Oshawa in a two-goal deficit heading to period three, forcing the Generals to look for another big third period such as the one they had in game four in order to avoid seeing their season come to a crashing halt.
Forced to pull out all the stops in the third, Oshawa pushed hard to attempt to fight their way back into the game, but they would be turned back time and time again by the tight-checking Steelheads defence. The Generals could never really get any sustained pressure set up in the Mississauga zone, resulting in not enough chances being directed at Mancina.
Comeback hopes would be dealt a critical blow with little more than seven minutes remaining, when the Steelheads capitalized on a blown assignment in the Oshawa zone, allowing Nathan Bastian to walk to the front of the net and beat Keyser with a shot that put Mississauga up three. After scoring five times in Mississauga’s first-round series versus Ottawa, the Generals had managed to contain him for much of the series, keeping Bastian off of the scoresheet until this marker, which proved to be the torpedo that sunk the Generals battleship in 2017.
With no tomorrow in sight without a massive comeback, the Generals fought resiliently throughout the final minutes of the contest, and Joe Manchurek did score a goal for Oshawa with 1:03 remaining to spoil the shutout bid of Matthew Mancina. Playing in his final OHL game, it was only fitting that Oshawa’s only goal of the afternoon came off of the stick of their captain, but the goal was not enough to save the Generals, as they fell by a final score of 3-1.
Wrapping up the series in just five games, the Mississauga Steelheads will now advance to the Eastern Conference Championship Series, where they will battle with the perennial adversaries of the Generals, the Peterborough Petes, for the right to play in the OHL Finals.
For Oshawa, thoughts immediately turn to next season, a season they have been building towards since dealing away leaders such as Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Vande Sompel back in January. While their bid to host the 2018 Memorial Cup may have come up short, the Generals still feel as though the have a team strong enough to compete next season, and will be highly motivated to earn their way into that tournament in Regina.
FEATURED PHOTO: The Mississauga Steelheads celebrate after eliminating the Oshawa Generals in five games on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Mississauga took the deciding game by a score of 3-1. (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 email@example.com or on Twitter.