Heading into the game against the Winkler Flyers a little short-handed, the Steinbach Pistons stepped up and gave a gutsy, hardworking, playoff-like effort and came out with a 2-1 win on Wednesday night.
To start the game, it was the home Flyers that put the pressure on but with strong defense and a willingness to grind out some hard shifts in their own zone, the Pistons kept Winkler on the outside and didn't allow much in the way of chances against.
A power play did give Winkler the lead as a point shot was deflected in front of Dominik Wasik, putting the Flyers up 1-0 in the first.
The teams traded shifts of being the dominant team but the power play marker would be the only one scored as they went into intermission with the 1-0 score holding for the hosts of the evening.
In the second, Steinbach found their legs and upped the pace of play.
Less than four minutes into the middle frame, Steinbach worked the puck from the boards near their bench to middle ice where Landon Roberts picked it up, walked into the Flyers zone, and wired a wrister top shelf to tie the game 1-1.
It's goal number 14 on the year for the 20-year-old Roberts. Travis Hensrud grabbed one assist, shaking off a three-game pointless slide while Noah Szabo also picked up a helper.
All the Pistons continued to pay the price, doing what they could to keep the game tied when Winkler did manage to generate chances.
Spencer Penner, who has played his best hockey of late, continued to be a star and sacrificed his body to block a shot, even if he maybe didn't mean to. The 19-year-old was battling in front of his net and he was so focused on clearing the crease that he didn't set himself to block the shot by facing it, instead taking one right off the back of the unpadded leg.
Hobbled, he stuck it out, grinded out the shift below the goalline, and helped his team get a massive clear of the zone.
He didn't miss a shift. "I'm going to sleep good tonight", he joked after the game.
Chippiness and scrums after the whistle escalated as the second period carried on in a 1-1 draw.
Near the midway point, defender David Cote was hustling to put pressure on a Flyers player that was going behind his own net. It appeared as if the player was going down, Cote made some contact and sent him hard into the boards.
The Flyers player managed to get up quickly but his teammates came to his defense and dropped the gloves on an unsuspecting Cote.
Cote was assessed a match penalty while the Flyers were given a 5-minute major for fighting plus the extra two minutes for instigating.
Both the Winkler player and Cote were ejected from the game.
At that point, Steinbach had been running 5 defenders but they would have to adjust as Cote being tossed sent them down to four. Davin Griffin who spent the bulk of Saturday night's game vs OCN on the blueline was put back and did a fantastic job filling in.
More rough stuff as the period went on put Steinbach down Nick Mikan for 10 minutes as the 18-year-old got tangled up with a Flyers player after a pair of penalties were already called. Mikan and the Flyers forward got dinged with a 10-minute misconduct each.
The dust settled and the score remained 1-1 through 40 minutes.
Steinbach earned two power-play chances early in the third. They controlled the zone perfectly, using quick passes to whip the puck around the zone and generate a number of good-quality looks. Despite all the puck possession, the Pistons couldn't find the go-ahead goal.
A great shift after the power play expired looked as though it gave Steinbach the advantage but a 10-bell save from the Flyer's goalie kept it 1-1.
With the crowd still buzzing after the save, the Pistons went to work winning the faceoff back to Langley Kruggel who used his great footwork to walk the blueline and fired a hard, low shot on goal. The original shot was stopped by Captain Dawson Milliken fought his way to the front and buried the rebound to put Steinbach up 2-1.
Millikens' 11th of the year was assisted by Kruggle and Griffin, who shook off a 7-game-pointless draught.
With over half a period to still play, the Pistons set their feet and refused to budge, never really allowing Winkler any traction in the offensive zone. Any chances they did get were turned away by some rock-solid goaltending by Wasik.
As time ticked away, the Flyers worked the puck down low and some good puck protection forced Steinbach into taking a penalty putting them down a man with just over four minutes to go in regulation.
Electing to keep the goalie in the net, the Flyers set out to tie the game 5 on 4 but again, a strong defensive effort and timely saves kept the score at 2-1 for the home side.
Steinbach managed to kill off the penalty and the rest of the clock after that to come away with a gutsy, 2-1 win.
Wasik was a rock finishing the night with 31 saves for his 24th win of the season.
The power play had their looks but failed to convert, going 0-6 while the penalty kill was 3-4.
With Portage losing in a shootout, the Pistons are locked into second place in the MJHL and will host the Winkler Flyers in game 1 of round 1.
Still, a bit of work to do in the regular season for Steinbach as they are set to host Portage on Friday night and then wrap up the regular season against the Winnipeg Freeze, also at the TG Smith Centre.