The Port Perry MoJacks have their backs against the wall, trailing the Port Hope Panthers three-games-to-one in the provincial quarterfinals.
The series shifted back to Port Hope for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday, March 29 (after The Standard's press deadline) following a 5-2 Panthers win before a raucous crowd of nearly 800 delirious fans at Scugog Arena on Easter Sunday, March 27.
“Our primary goal is to bring the series back to Port Perry on Friday night. I'd love to see another crowd like that," commented MoJacks head coach Clair Cornish.
The sides split the opening two games of the series, with the Panthers netting a pair of late goals to score a 7-6 overtime Game 1 win in Port Hope on Tuesday, March 22. Chris Polito and Connor MacEachern each scored twice for the MoJacks, with Lucas Clark and Konrad Piorkowski chipping in with singles.
On Thursday, March 24, the series moved back to Port Perry, with Kyle Schweda scoring the winning goal less than three minutes into overtime, lifting the MoJacks to a 3-2 win, and knotting the series at one-game apiece. Piorkowski opened the scoring with the lone goal of the first period, and MacEachern tied the game 2-2 at the midpoint of the third period.
On Saturday night (March 26), the Panthers rallied from a 3-2 third period deficit to down the MoJacks by a final score of 5-3, with Piorkowski, Kyle Schweda and Clark scoring for Port Perry.
Despite trailing in the series, the MoJacks' staff was encouraged by the fact that Port Perry has held the lead in each of the opening four games of the series.
"If you flip things around a little more with some luck and bounces going our way, we could be up 3-1," Cornish told The Standard. "Overall, the gameplay hasn't been much different than it was against Uxbridge or Clarington. But, Port Hope can adapt really well, and we've been chasing a little more than I'd like at times."
On Easter Sunday (March 27) afternoon, the MoJacks were looking to tie the series 2-2 when they took to the ice at Scugog Arena, and the animosity between the two clubs was evident from the opening face-off, with both teams deploying a ferocious forecheck.
The Panthers grabbed the lead almost eight minutes into the action, when Empire League MVP Dalton Lawrence took advantage of a MoJacks line change to charge down the middle and score on a blistering shot.
The MoJacks would regroup late in the opening frame, with Graham Lamers, Kyle Schweda and Clark putting great pressure on the Port Hope defence on a late powerplay. However, they couldn't find the back of the net, and the MoJacks trailed by a goal after 20 minutes of play.
The MoJacks hit the ice with renewed energy to kick off the second period, and less than five minutes into the fray, Bubba McCullough converted a great feed from MacEachern to beat the Port Hope goalie high, and knot the score at 1-1.
Just over three minutes later, with Kyle Schweda and Clark bombarding the Panthers on the powerplay, Jeff St. Pierre bulldozed his way to the net to slam home a rebound, and send the crowd into a frenzy, as the MoJacks took their first lead of the afternoon.
The bad blood continued to boil as the middle frame wore on, with multiple penalties whistled against each team. During this stretch, the MoJacks received tremendous contributions on the defensive end from Lucas Berkers, Andrew Pickering and Dan Harris, with Brett Chandler making several sensational saves between the pipes for Port Perry.
After killing off an extended 5-on-3 situation early in the third period, the MoJacks were whistled for a 'too many men on the ice' penalty, which sent Port Hope back to the powerplay, and resulted in Shawn Mackie tying the match just over a minute into the third period.
The MoJacks would continue to battle, but the Panthers were able to find the back of the net three more times, with the final goal fired into a empty net, after Chandler was pulled for an extra attacker on a powerplay with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Following the game, Cornish noted that his charges have continued to grow their game as the season has worn on into the provincial quarterfinals, and will rely on the experience of playing with and maintaining a one-goal lead.
“We're still learning, and learning to play with one-goal leads is something that can only come from experience. And, Port Hope is a patient and poised hockey team that can play a lot of different styles, and relies on their experience in tough situations," explained Cornish. "I think we've shown that with a two-goal lead, we can effectively shut down our opponents, but we've still got some work to do when we're up by one."
- Should the MoJacks win Game 5 in Port Hope on Tuesday night, the series will return to Port Perry for Game 6, on Friday, April 1, with the action getting underway at 7:30 p.m. Check the MoJacks' web site at www.portperrymojacks.ca or on Twitter through @darrylknight or @mojackshockey for all of the latest updates on the team.