The Erie Otters had the early lead in the Western Conference finals. Now, they have to rebound from a 2-1 series deficit against Owen Sound.
The Owen Sound Attack resembled a “deer in the headlights” after a lopsided Game 1 loss to the Erie Otters on Friday.
On Monday night, the Otters appeared stunned, and for good reason. They began the best-of-7 Western Conference finals with a dominant effort in a lopsided 6-1 win. Less than a week later, they face a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday trailing 2-1 in the series.
“I think we need to get back to our game plan,” Otters winger Alex DeBrincat told the media after a 6-3 loss Monday at Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre in Owen Sound, Ontario, in which the Otters held an early 1-0 lead, and erased a 3-1 deficit in the second period, but allowed the Attack to score the game’s final three goals to take control of the series.
“We come out strong, and get the first goal,” DeBrincat said. “But then we kind of let up. That can’t happen. Going down 3-1 is never easy to come back from. We just didn’t have enough.”
Meanwhile, the Attack sounded more upbeat than after an opening loss that featured five straight goals from the Otters to start the game, and an Owen Sound club unprepared to face that big stage.
The Attack have surrendered the first goal in all three games, but they erased those early deficits — and in Game 2, a 3-1 third-period deficit — to put themselves in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Otters.
“Obviously yes, we would love to score first,” Attack coach Ryan McGill said after Game 3. “That’s just not how the game works all the time. Our guys are resilient in the fact that it doesn’t really matter what the score is. We kind of take the game in segments, in the fact that we tend to talk about momentum shifts. We talk about being detailed as opposed to the score of the game, which is always the way we have talked all year, about the process and not worrying about the outcome.”
The Otters are the more experienced club, with 16 players having experienced at least one trip to the conference finals before this season. Nine Otters played in the club’s trips to the conference finals the past three seasons, and midseason acquisition Anthony Cirelli has the 2015 league and Memorial Cup championships on his OHL resume.
The Attack are in the conference finals for only the second time in franchise history, and first time since capturing their lone OHL championship in the 2010-11 season.
Still, the Attack displayed poise after the Otters rallied from 3-1 down behind 19 shots in the second period.
“It doesn’t really matter what the score is. They’re going to try to play the same way,” McGill said. “And I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight, in the fact that Erie gave us a real, real experienced push with their top players, and I think we were fortunate to pass the test.”
Now, the Otters need to find a way to respond, and even the series at two games apiece.
“We knew things were going to get tougher playing in their rink,” Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said. “I don’t think we were prepared in the first period (Monday, and) understood how hard it was going to be.”
Victor Fernandes can be reached at 870-1716 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/GoErieHockey.