The Novotel Spitfires scored just thirty seconds into their first-round matchup against Hertz and didn’t look back, winning the opener in the best-of-three series 5-2 and delivering a gut punch to top-seeded Hertz.
Novotel forward Bill Bredesen scored the early goal after Brad Wilson crashed into the offensive corner and forced a turnover. The puck bounced out to Jason Bitter in the slot and his shot redirected to Bredesen, who made an easy put-back into a wide-open net.
A few minutes later, Wilson again found himself active in the offensive zone, scoring on an acrobatic one-handed shot against Hertz netminder Lance Parker.
Hertz clawed back early in the second, as captain Jordan Ashton sped down the sideboards in a race for the puck, before coming away with a breakaway against Novotel netminder Yu Cheng (Leo) Liao. Ashton went wide and found the back of the net against a sprawling Leo.
Novotel winger Peam Jaratwuttipreeda extended the lead again to two goals on a rocket wrist shot through Parker’s five-hole, and the Spitfires were back up 3-1.
Bredesen notched his second goal of the night in the third period on a give-and-go pass from Novotel’s leading scorer Mike Freeson.
The 4-1 lead appeared to put the game out of reach, but Hertz pulled Parker with several minutes remaining, and Roman Larin scored a goal circling out of the corner, briefly giving the Rental Cars a glimmer of hope.
Marcel Bouwens dashed those hopes with just over two minutes remaining on a full-ice empty-net goal. Brad Wilson was the Rolling Stine Pizza player-of-the-game and Leo stopped 27 of the 29 shots fired his way while Hertz’s Lance Parker stopped 22 of the 26 missiles shot at him.
Novotel enters game two of the series on Thursday, March 5 at 9:30pm with some of their swagger back, needing to win just one of the next two matchups against Hertz for a trip to the final.
Game two of the first night of the SHL playoffs saw Peak Biolabs battle Aware. Aware came into the game playing some of the best hockey in the league. Coming off a big win versus Hertz in the final game of the season, and the respect of the top seed by being passed over as Hertz’s first-round opponent selection, Aware came into the game with lots of confidence. Peak also felt good about their chances as they came into the game with most of their squad intact. The big question mark going into the series is what will Peak do about producing offense with two-time SHL goal-scoring leader and captain Harrison Oztemel on the shelf with an injury that will probably keep him out until the championship game.
The offense question was answered quickly as Peak took the opening face-off into the Aware zone and scored only 11 seconds into the first period. John Schachnovsky and Jesse Starosta picked up assists as Mike White slid the puck past Aware goalie Dream to give Peak the early goal and the early momentum.
With less than five minutes gone in the first, Peak doubled their lead when young Thai phenom Mel Dhiranusornkit gave the puck to speedy Thai National Team standout Patrick Forstner. Forstner was given a little time and space, two things that teams try and avoid giving the Thai superstar. Peak then had the early 2-0 lead.
Peak continued to take the game to Aware, but could not get the third goal, something that they will look back on as they had a golden power-play opportunity that that was unsuccessful,
The second period began with Aware showing the same intensity they had shown since the beginning of 2020, but lacked in period one. Captain Justin St. Denis showed why he has already won two SHL championships as he rallied his team to come out strong in the middle frame.
Aware began to slowly tilt the ice as the game turned into the grinding playoff game that was anticipated. Nobody could dent the twine until late in the period.
And who better to get Aware’s first goal in a grinding playoff game than the original grinder, Scotty Murray. Murray was camped out in front and when Mat Sigel and Corry Day paired up to dish the puck in front Murray was “Johnny on the spot” to toss it over Gabor Toth to cut the Peak lead in half. It looked like Aware would only be down by a goal going into the third period, when Adrian Myers took a pass from St.Denis and then found Brandon Vick in front and Vick tied the game with only 15 seconds left on the clock. We entered the third deadlocked at two.
Peak didn’t fold though, and the game was back in Peak’s favor early as Ed McConnell was able to redirect a shot from Punn Phasukkijwatana past Dream. Another strong individual effort by Forstner gave Punn space he needed to throw the puck to McConnell.
With a little more than ten minutes to play, Aware saw the hockey gods watching over them as Corry Day won an offensive zone face-off back to Matt Johnson. Johnson threw the puck on net, and the puck deflected off a stick in the high slot and looped over Gabor’s head into the net. The game was now tied 3-3.
The game looked destined for overtime with only one minute to play, when Corry Day, who had three assists on the night, found a wide-open Jari Eerikainen in front of Gabor, and he made no mistake, sniping the biscuit past the Peak goalie.
Game one final score: Aware 4, Peak 3. For his outstanding play on both ends of the ice, Aware mainstay Adrian Myers was given the Rolling Stone Pizza player-of-the-game.
Both goalies made 20 saves in the game. Peak went 0-2 on the power-play, but played a disciplined game as they took no penalties on the night.
Game two is Thursday at 8:30pm, with Aware looking to sweep the series and make it to the SHL championship game