SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. – A Lucas Theriault man advantage marker 11:55 into the second period proved to be the eventual difference maker Sunday evening as the Soo Thunderbirds went on to defeat the Blind River Beavers 3-1 in Game 5 of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division semifinal at John Rhodes Community Centre.
With the result, the Thunderbirds now take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven affair heading into Game 6 Tuesday night at 7 p.m. the Blind River Community Centre.
Blind River came out quickly and opened the scoring just 21 seconds into the match-up off the stick on Ryan Peck, who picked up his seventh of the postseason early, off an assist from Riley Nadeau.
Down a man late in the first period, Sault Ste. Marie struck shorthanded to level the proceedings on a Kaidan McDonald unassisted effort.
Going to the power play in the middle stanza, the Thunderbirds went on top as they moved the puck around nicely before getting it on the stick of Theriault, who promptly whipped one past Beavers’ starter Jackson Hjelle at 11:55.
The Soo pressed the pace in the third, but could not add another on Hjelle thanks to some quality stops from the Beavers’ stopper as well as a couple of attempts that clipped off both the cross bar and then the goal post and stayed out.
Blind River then pulled their netminder in the late going for an extra attacker, but Ryan Lawrence intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and fired one into the empty net with 36 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
Colin Ahern made 14 saves to record the win for the Thunderbirds while Hjelle’s impressive 33-save effort wasn’t quite enough as he suffered the narrow setback.
West Division semifinal
No. 1 Soo Thunderbirds vs. No. 4 Blind River Beavers
Thunderbirds lead best-of-seven series 3-2
Game 1: Thunderbirds 4 Beavers 2
Game 2: Thunderbirds 6 Beavers 3
Game 3: Beavers 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 4: Beavers 3 Thunderbirds 2
Game 5: Thunderbirds 3 Beavers 1
Game 6: Tuesday, March 26 @ Blind River 7 p.m. (Blind River Community Centre)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 27 @ Sault Ste. Marie 7 p.m. (John Rhodes Community Centre)
Game Photos courtesy of Rod Aubertin – SSM Photos