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Drama, drama, drama – the second games in the SHL playoff series were just full of drama.
It was do or die for the Novotel Spitfires in game one, and they played like it. They prevented TRUE from getting many scoring opportunities, but when David Boere of the Spitfires was called for interference with three minutes left in the first period, TRUE took advantage of the call and Kim Lidberg scored with two minutes left, with the assist coming from Tan Limpinphet.
In the second period, TRUE’s netminder, Lance Parker, was called for delay of game for coving the puck when he should have played it and with just seconds left in the penalty, Michael White of the Novotel Spitfires scored with the assists coming from Corry Day and substitute goaltender, Gabor Toth. With just ten seconds left in the second period, White scored his second of the night giving the Spitfires the lead.
Three minutes into the third period saw TRUE’s captain, Mike Wilson tied things up at two, with the assist coming from Jaren Folden. About three minutes later, TRUE take the lead when Limpinphet passed to Ith Vatanapanyakul who found the back of the net. With just over one minute left in the game, Patrick Forstner of TRUE was called for tripping, giving the Spitfires life. Just ten second later Ken Kindborn teamed up with Joe Pettit to tie things up and force overtime. With just ten seconds left in regulation time, Jaren Folden was called for hooking to give the Spitfires a man advantage going into overtime.
The action really went back and forth in the overtime period, but neither team could seize the advantage and put the game away and the score remained tied at three at the end of the overtime period, going to a sudden death shootout. Jordan Ashton was first up for TRUE, putting a move on Toth causing Toth to splay out as Ashton flipped the puck up over his leg pad and into the net. First up for the Spitfires was Ken Kindborn; he came down on Parker who at the last second came out and challenged Kindborn causing Kindborn to shoot it into Parkers pads to give TRUE the win, advancing them to the finals.
The second game of the evening was delayed because of the dramatic OT and shootout finish to game one. First-seeded AWARE, trailing Hertz 1-0 in the best-of-three series, were determined not to face the same fate as Novotel. Both teams came out skating hard and once again it was AWARE scoring first as young Thai star Phu Suwachirat parked in front of the net and potted a loose puck from in close, after good work down-low with Harrison Oztemel and Juhani Iljas drawing the assists.
The rest of the period was a tightly-fought frame filled with chances for both sides. Both goaltenders put on a show in what sometimes looked like a save-for-save battle. Hertz rolled two strong forward lines supported by a lot of speed, size
Hertz came out hard also in the second period, forcing Mat Siegel of AWARE to take a hooking penalty to stop speedy Mangkorn Sukwiboon on a 3-on-2 break. AWARE goalie Patrick Leduc make some big saves during the man advantage but was left to dry watching the puck slowly trickle by him as Andy Brine fanned on a shot that bounced right to winger La Chamnanrattanakul for an easy tap-in just as the AWARE penalty expired.
Hertz looked confident with the 2-1 lead but AWARE came right back out with the same line and Mat Siegel quickly redeemed himself when he camped out in front of the net and knocked in a rebound off a hard shot from Beer Thamwongsin from the point. The goalie duel continued throughout the second period with the highlight of the night being a point-blank glove save by Patrick Leduc on Hertz captain Justin St. Denis from the slot. The save drew loud cheers from the stands and had all players wearing yellow and black looking at the ceiling and rolling their eyes. Dream Ungkulpattanasuk in the Hertz net was not to be outdone however and the period ended with a 2-2 tie and the shots even at 19-19.
The third and final act continued to be a nail biter with chances both ways without anyone able to break the deadlock. Halfway through the period, AWARE managed to establish some pressure in the Hertz zone. The AWARE forecheck forced Hertz to attempt to chip the puck out but Christian Olofsson intercepted and carried it into the slot and passed it to Devin Michael for a quick shot on net with Harrison Oztemel chipping in the rebound over a sprawling Dream for a 3-2 lead. AWARE looked poised to fend off the Hertz attempts to close out the game but some heavy line-joggling by Hertz sparked their offence in the final 90 seconds of the third. Hertz smooth skating Dman Hideki Nagayama slid down from his point position and fired a hard shot, far corner, on a nice one-timer set up by Andy Brine for his third point of the night. The game was tied 3-3 at the conclusion of regulation and fans were in for a real treat, witnessing the second OT game of the night.
Exciting 3-on-3 hockey with chances at both ends followed. Time was winding down and the clock was approaching 11PM. The two captains had started to list their shooters for the sudden death penalty shootout rounds when AWARE’s Juhani Iljas broke up a play at centre ice and led the rush with the two youngsters Winnie and Phu carrying the puck up ice. Juhani got the puck back on his stick just outside the crease and he slid it back for Phu with just seconds left on the clock. Dream in the Hertz net lounged himself out towards the shooter but Phu managed to elevate the puck and score with 0.00.02 seconds left on the clock for his second goal of the night to send the semi-final series to a deciding game on Sunday. His clutch performance also earned him his third Rolling Stone Pizza player-of-the-game award of the season. The final score was AWARE 4 – 3 in one of the most exciting games of the year.
Patrick Leduc turned away 20 of the 23 shots he faced in the AWARE net, while Dream saved 26 of the 30 pucks fired at him in the Hertz jersey. Game three will be played on Sunday, March 10th 8:30PM. Admission is free and the games take place at the Rink, 7th floor, Central Plaza Grand Rama IX. The winner moves on to play team True in the 2018-19 SHL Final.