SASKATOON, Sask. – Ty Rattie could have iced it, but instead the final few minutes became more interesting in the MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal.
With the Portland Winterhawks leading the London Knights 2-1 late in the game, Rattie’s shot at the empty net hit Knights forward Seth Griffith. What ensued was a tense, pressure-filled final minute and a half where the Knights pressed, but weren’t able to find the equalizer.
"Rattie mentioned he wanted to keep the TV ratings high, so he kept it 2-1 instead of hitting the empty net," Winterhawks head coach Travis Green joked.
The Knights had many chances in the final 90 seconds to tie the game and send it to overtime as Portland won 2-1. Bo Horvat, who provided the late-game heroics in Game 7 of the Ontario Hockey League final, was stopped twice by Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth. Max Domi also had a chance in tight, but his stick broke as he snapped the shot.
"You play with bounces like that and sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t," Domi said. "That case in particular, it didn’t go our way."
Despite missing an opportunity to score the insurance marker, Rattie wound up scoring the game-winner midway through the third period. Rattie curled out from the left boards and fired a shot over Knights goalie Jake Patterson’s right shoulder.
"I know he’s a smaller goalie so I tried to get it up high and lucky enough it went in," Rattie said.
It’s another tough ending for the Knights, who saw their MasterCard Memorial Cup dreams come to an end in overtime in last year’s championship final.
"Regardless of if you lose in overtime in the finals or you lose 2-1 in the semis, you don’t get the result you want," Knights captain Scott Harrington said. "It’s no easier to swallow this year."
Why the Winterhawks won: The Winterhawks received a solid effort from overage goalie Carruth. He made some critical stops in the final few minutes, but also kept his team in it early when the Knights held most of the momentum in the first period.
"He’s been unbelievable," defenceman Seth Jones said. "He’s been there when we really needed him."
The Knights played their traditional cycle and trap game and it created several turnovers in the early going. Green said before the game his team would need to remain patient against the Knights, who don’t give their opposition much. The Winterhawks eventually broke through by altering their attack slightly.
"I thought we wore them down a little bit in the last 10 minutes of the second period where you could see some of their guys were getting a little bit tired off the cycle," Green said. "We were real good down low in their end and started to get some chances, started to simplify our game a little bit. We started to put pucks to the net. I thought we were too fancy early in the game, but that’s the way our team plays. We want to make plays, but it’s a fine line."
"I don’t know if I’ve ever played a team like that," Rattie added. "You just have to chip it in deep and I know for my line, we don’t do that a whole lot and we had to adjust our game, get it in deep and get it on the fore-check. Once we figured that out, we liked our game and came away with the win."
Why the Knights lost: The Knights can’t help but feel like there were opportunities missed. Their first period flurry created many chances, but no goals. London can be a different team when they get the first goal, which they did in the second period, but the opportunity existed earlier.
"I think if we buried on some chances it would have been a different game," Knights forward Alex Broadhurst said.
"We had some real good chances and bounces didn’t go our way," Harrington said. "A couple broken sticks on great opportunities to score. We understand that’s the way it goes and sometimes you don’t get the bounces."
Player of the Game: The much-maligned Carruth stopped 34 of 35 shots he faced en route to the victory. After a disappointing first game of the tournament, where he was shelled for seven goals in the team’s opening game loss to Halifax, Carruth made the big saves to preserve the lead.
"Pucks just seemed to hit me," he said. "The first game they didn’t, today they did."
"I thought it was his best game of the tournament," Green said. "Obviously, just a great performance by a guy we’ve leaned on for a long time now. It doesn’t surprise us. He came up big for us tonight."
Unsung hero: Derrick Pouliot made a nice pinch on Rattie’s goal to keep the play in the Knights’ zone. He then made the pass to Rattie, who scored the decisive goal.
Perhaps even more important was his defensive play. Pouliot twice tied up a man with a stick-check to stop them from getting a shot away with Carruth at their mercy, preventing sure goals. Both plays were when the Winterhawks led 2-1 and the Knights were pressing.
"Pouliot was a rock all game, he was our best defenceman," Rattie said.
"He’s been dynamite for us all year," Jones added.
Game changer: Rattie’s goal at 8:32 of the third period put the Winterhawks into Sunday’s final. He made a different move than on two earlier goals in the tournament, opting instead to shoot rather than trying to do his patented delay move to create space and time.
"Something a little different," Rattie said. "I’m not going to get by Harrington again and I know I’m not going to get by (Olli) Maatta again so I have to do something different and I don’t think you’ll see that move any time soon."
Quote of the day: For some of the Knights players, they know they will have a chance at redemption again next year, when the team hosts the MasterCard Memorial Cup. That knowledge, however, doesn’t soften the blow from coming up short for the second year in a row.
"It’s tough to lose like that," Domi said. "It sucks. It really does suck. We really wanted to end on a better note like we did last year and it’s tough. We’re just kind of soaking it in now and looking forward to next year, though."