Photo credit: Madison Fox, Renegades Photography
Having taken their first-round matchup against the Calgary Canucks in five games, Friday night at the Eagle Builders Centre marked the first time this season that the Blackfalds Bulldogs played a game facing elimination after back-to-back losses in Drumheller put them down 3-1 in their second-round series. While the series deficit looked daunting, Blackfalds’ home-ice advantage meant they’d get to host two of the possible three remaining games, provided they found a way to earn victory in games five and six.
Two themes had persisted in the first four games of the series; first, despite trailing 3-1 in the series, the Bulldogs had managed to outshoot the Dragons in each game, a trend simultaneous with their persistent edge in scoring chances. The second was that, no matter what happened following, the team that scored the first goal had won every single game. To that end, Blackfalds’ start to the game was perfect. Jason Siedem and Brendan Ross broke in on a two-on-one early, with Siedem finding Ross with a pass. Ross’ snapshot was initially saved by Garrett Fuller, but the puck deflected off of the back-checking Tate Yule and rolled in to make it 1-0 just 31 seconds into the game. Despite the strong start and Blackfalds earning numerous grade-A scoring chances after their goal, it was the Dragons who struck back next, with Ty Whitford finding some space on a counter-attack and finishing pat Matthew Hennessey’s glove on a one-on-one chance to send the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.
Early in the second period, a pair of Bulldogs goals made it 3-1 within just 24 seconds of each other; first, Tyler Wallace found Brendan Ross in the slot with a saucer pass on the powerplay. Ross made no mistake with a quick snapshot over Fuller’s blocker, making it 2-1, but Blackfalds would strike again with their next flurry into the offensive zone. Kody Willick sent a pass to the line for Jake Geraci to lean into a one-timer, which was blocked but fell to Jack Plandowski whose quick reaction sent the puck past Fuller and in on the rebound. Blackfalds would hold the 3-1 lead until just past the halfway point of the second, at which point a Bulldogs four-on-three power-play struck, with Brett Meerman picking the top corner past Fuller’s glove to make it 4-1. Whilst not as quick as the two at the start of the second, the Bulldogs scored quickly again, with this time Kody Willick striking less than 90 seconds after the Meerman goal. A perfectly executed three-on-two by Blackfalds sent the puck from Plandowski to Otto Hanson before Hanson picked out Kody, who broke in and finished with a move to the forehand to make it 5-1. After Fuller was replaced by Manny Panghli, Kody would score again late in the period, finding a puck out of a scrum in front of the net and scoring with a backhand shot to make it 6-1.
In his first game of the series, Easton Adrian scored a power-play goal just eight minutes into the third to make it 6-2, picking the top corner over Matthew Hennessey’s blocker. Kurt Gurkan then scored his second goal in as many games, taking a pass from Brett Meerman off the rush and scoring with a move to the forehand to make it 7. Jack Plandowski found a rebound in front off an Evan Mitchell point shot late on to make it 8-2, wrapping up a big Bulldogs win. Blackfalds’ win keeps them alive in the series, winning by the biggest margin in any of the 11 games between the two teams all season. Blackfalds’ task gets tougher now, however, as Sunday night marks game six at the Drumheller Memorial Arena. Blackfalds, dating back to the start of the regular season, has been on the losing side of each of their five games in Drumheller, including game three and four losses already last week. A loss for the Bulldogs means an end to their season, long before they would have hoped. Conversely, a Bulldogs win sets up a do-or-die game seven Tuesday night at the Eagle Builders Centre. Make no doubt about it, Sunday is as big as any Bulldogs game in the history of the franchise.