After one of the tightest and toughest series in recent WHL history, the Swift Current Broncos emerged victorious over the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Jordan Papirny made 39 saves in game seven as the Broncos won 3-2 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
“We're very excited,” said Broncos associate coach Ryan Smith. “It was one of the better series I've ever been involved in personally. I don't think either team left much on the table. Everybody was all in. There was not much between those teams. That's a heck of a team over there... we're proud to be moving on and we respect them.”
Despite the intensity of the battle it was hard for the two clubs to not finish such a hard fought series without a lot of respect for each other.
“A grind of a series on both ends,” Papirny said. “That was just a well executed series by both teams. We got that bounce of the end wall and Gawdin put it in and that was the difference. Very excited.”
Swift Current had a 3-2 lead in the series, but lost game six on home ice and faced the tall task of winning game seven on the road. It was certainly nerve-wracking for a team with so little playoff experience.
“You can only imagine game seven on the road,” Smith said. “We felt we maybe let one slip in game six. A lot of unsure kids in that room going into this with not a lot of experience. Our guys came ready to play. The dressing room is excited right now. They're enjoying this win and they deserve it.
“I thought our guys handled the pressure of this game. There were times they got nervous and got stuck, but all in all guys played well.”
Papirny was a key difference maker for the Broncos as he finished the series with a 2.02 goals against average and 0.947 save percentage.
“I thought I did some really good things,” Papirny said. “The shots favoured Moose Jaw, but I thought the scoring chances were pretty even if not favouring us. I thought Sawchenko made a lot of big time saves for them and really held them in there. I thought I was just seeing the puck well and the guys were making it easy for me.”
He was able to best one of the top goaltenders in the league in Zach Sawchenko who is a two-time Eastern Conference goaltender of the year. Sawchenko also played well with a 2.46 goals against average and 0.923 save percentage.
“(Papirny) and Sawchenko have been fighting tooth and nail since game one,” Smith said. “I think Papirny's experience came through.”
That experience of 56 playoff games and two trips to a league final had never included a game seven until now.
“I've never been a part of a seven game series,” Papirny said. “We joked around about that we asked who had played in a game seven and everyone kind of looked towards me and I didn't have an answer. It was new for everyone. Credit to our whole team we pulled out a character win tonight. Every guy in that room did it for each other.”
Swift Current battled through their nerves to open the scoring early in the first period on a Colby Sissons shot from the right point.
Moose Jaw got in some penalty trouble early in the second period and Aleksi Heponiemi set Tyler Steenbergen up for his team leading sixth goal of the series on a 5 on 3. The Broncos had a chance to extend that 2-0 lead and hit a couple of posts shortly after. They hit three of them on the night.
“You can't dwell on it,” Smith said. “It's a do-or-die situations you have to move on and think about your next shift.”
Justin Almeida scored his second of the series midway through the period to start putting some pressure on Swift Current.
Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin answered early in the third period with his third of the series and he lifted home a puck that had bounced off the end boards after a Steenbergen shot.
“He's the heart and soul and he's the leader,” Smith said. “Nice to see him get a big goal like that. Glenn is everything you want in a captain and he has shown that. Glenn needed the second round and a lot of guys here needed the second round individually. They put those individual needs together and the team got there.”
It looked for a moment like the Warriors had struck midway through the third period when the referees signaled Thomas Foster had scored just as a Moose Jaw power play expired. Further review would indicate the puck hit the bottom of the crossbar and never crossed the goal line.
Moose Jaw did cut that lead to 3-2 with five minutes left in the the game as Josh Brook ripped home a wrist shot off a scramble for this second of the series. That's when the Broncos really had to battle to stay ahead.
“My experience in this whole series helped,” Papirny said. “We've been in this position before we knew what we needed to do. We locked it down and we didn't really give them anything. The couple shots we had at the end everything was boxed out and I could see perfectly.”
Swift Current held on for their third road win of the series in a building they hadn't won in at all in the regular season.
“It's unbelievable,” Smith noted. “If you would have told me we would have won three of the games we needed to win on the road... that's just coming in here grinding your teeth and saying you're going to do it as a team. Popped them in game one here and that kind of set the tone showing we can win here.”
The Broncos held Moose Jaw to 0 for 5 on the power play on the night and 3 for 26 on the series. After finishing the regular season with the second worst penalty kill in the league, that unit ended up being a key to their success against he Warriors.
Now Swift Current's attention shifts to the CHL's top ranked team from Regina. Their series with the Pats starts Thursday at the Brandt Centre.
“They're heavy favourites going into,” Papirny said. “But it's a seven game series for a reason. We believe that if we play the right way and do the little things right that over a seven game series we could play with anyone.”
Games three and four will be in Swift Current next Monday and Tuesday. Tickets go on sale on Wednesday morning at 9am.
A scattered video recap of tonight's win with what's left of my voice pic.twitter.com/mZ5mSodbbR— Shawn Mullin (@shawnmullin) April 4, 2017