Each playoff series has its own unique obstacle to overcome.
In the opening round, the top seeded Windsor Spitfires had to overcome an impressive performance from one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
In the second round, against seventh-seeded Kitchener Rangers, the Spitfires tended to fall behind early.
“Both series were tough and we just had to find ways to win,” said Spitfires forward Josh Currie. “We will keep fighting and come back.”
That was the case again on Saturday as the Spitfires recovered from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Rangers 3-2 for 4,470 at the WFCU Center.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Spitfires head coach Marc Savard. “Not a good start, but we slowly worked our way back.”
With the win, the Spitfires took the best-of-seven series 4-1 and earned a spot in the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“You want to extend your junior career as long as possible,” said Spitfires over-year defender Louka Henault. “It’s a great feeling. You want to get as far as possible.”
Windsor had a chance to finish the series in the first round against Sarnia, but dropped Game 5 at home to extend the series, which eventually ended in Game 6.
“You don’t want to give teams hope,” said Currie.
But that’s what the Rangers got early on Saturday after jumping to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Matthew Sop sent a shot past Spitfires’ goalkeeper Matt Onuska and Ty Hollett got a point shot that hit him and went inside.
“They’ve given us a good run,” said Savard. “They played well and we knew they would throw everything to us in the first period.”
It was the fourth time that the Spitfires were behind after 20 minutes, but for the third time the Spitfires came back.
“Honestly, we all looked at each other and said, ‘We could do it,'” Currie said.
Windsor had a 14-1 lead in shots in the second period as Henault took a feed from Wyatt Johnston and beat Kitchener goalkeeper Pavel Cajan.
“With all the opportunities we had, it was almost a sigh of relief,” Henault said. “It was almost like we could get our bounces if we keep pushing.”
Defender Michael Renwick made it 2-2 in the last minute of the second period when he circled the net and ripped a shot off Cajan’s shoulder.
“We had to make some adjustments,” said Savard, whose team defeated the Rangers 14-2 in the second period of the series. “We’re adjusting all year.”
Windsor scored the winning goal in the third period on the power play with defender Nathan Perrott launching a one-shot that defeated Cajan midway through the third period.
The Rangers were unable to equalize on Onuska but got closer in the final 15 seconds as Windsor goalkeeper Francesco Pinelli, Reid Valade and Adam Zidlicky spun off in a wild fight.
“He’s been a rock for us there,” Henault said of Onuska. “He lets us play our game.”
The Spitfires will face the third-seeded Flint Firebirds in the Western Conference Finals. Flint advanced through the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds won 7-1 at home in five games on Saturday.
The Eastern Conference final will see the Hamilton Bulldogs and North Bay Battalion, who knocked out Kingston on Saturday with a 6-5 win.
Spitfires 3 Rangers 2
Kitchener 2 0 0 – 2
Windsor 0 2 1 – 3
First period: 1. Kitchener, Sop 1 (Nolet, Rehkopf) 5:13, 2. Kitchener, Hollett 1 (Mutter, Swick) 16:41. Sanctions: Zidlicky K (roughing), O’Flaherty W (roughing) 2:29, Valade K (cross-checking), Swick K (roughing), Henault W (roughing) 10:05, Abraham W (slashing) 13:57, Serpa K ( roughing), De Angelis W (roughing), Perrott W (roughing) 18:26.
Second period: 3. Windsor, Henault 3 (Johnston, Cuylle) 11:41, 4. Windsor, Renwick 3 (Abraham, D’Amico) 19:14. Sanctions: Mutter K (hooks) 5:56, Valade K (blind) 17:04.
Third period: 5. Windsor, Perrott 5 (Johnston, Henault) 10:04 (pp). Sanctions: Renwick W (slashing) 1:02, Martin K (roughing), Perrott W (roughing) 5:04, Mutter K (holding) 9:17.
Game Stats – SOG – Kitchener 13 4 15 – 0 Windsor 13 20 10 – 43 Goal (shot saves) – Kitchener: Cajan (L,3-4-0-0) (43-40). Windsor: Onuska (W,8-2-1) (32-30). Power play (goal odds) – Kitchener 0-3. Windsor 1-4. Referees: Drew Jackson (21) and Morgan MacPhee (11). Line Judges: Andre Grougrou (77) and Scott Lawson (98). Until.: 4,470 in the WFCU center.