Most knew the opening round playoff series between the Steinbach Pistons and long-time rival Winkler Flyers would be a close, hard-fought battle and the first two games proved that with one going to overtime while the other was decided by a slim one-goal margin, both teams earning a victory to make it a best of 5 from here on out.
Game 1: 5-4 Winkler in overtime
There was an electric atmosphere inside the packed TG Smith Centre on Friday night as the Pistons opened the playoffs for the final time in the old arena.
Despite being on the road, it was the Flyers that stormed out of the gate and managed to get a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Steinbach responded on a man advantage.
Ian Amsbaugh won a battle for the puck along the boards and filtered a pass to Parker Jasper at the point. The 19-year-old put a shot through traffic that was expertly deflected by Leo Chambers and in for his first of the postseason, knotting the game up at 1-1.
The penalty kill unit was called upon a couple of times in the frame and did the job, keeping things at 1-1 heading into the second.
That score didn't last long into the middle frame as Winkler grabbed a lead again scoring quickly, less than a minute into the period to go up 2-1.
Once again, a Pistons power play got them back to even. This time, it was Amsbaugh who took a great pass from Warren Clark and ripped a heavy wrister that found its way through the Flyers netminder and in to tie it 2-2. Travis Hensrud picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
Ty Paisley would give Steinbach their first lead of the game as the 18-year-old helped force a turnover before putting a puck out front that deflected off of something and in for a 3-2 Pistons lead. Dawson Milliken and Kirk Mullen picked up helpers.
A pair of questionable penalty calls back-to-back put Steinbach down two men to start the third period and Winkler didn't miss the opportunity scoring again less than a minute into the period to tie the game 3-3.
Quickly responding, Neo Kiemeny gave his team another lead as the highly-skilled 19-year-old worked hard and willed the puck into the goal to put Steinbach ahead 4-3. Landon Roberts, who was a physical force all night, and Hensrud were given the assists.
With time ticking away, Winkler managed to tie the game up yet again, after a hard-working, grinding shift in the Pistons zone had the defenders running around a bit and the game was knotted up again 4-4.
Overtime was needed.
Early in the extra frame, Steinbach was called for another penalty, their 8th minor penalty of the game. While the power play for Winkler didn't score, they managed to work the puck in the zone for the entire two minutes, get a line change in without allowing the Pistons to change and because of that, a point shot that was originally stopped was hammered home to give the road team a 5-4 win to take game 1.
Steinbach's power play was 2 for 4 while the penalty kill was 7 for 8. The only goal they allowed shorthanded was on the 5 on 3.
Dominik Wasik was tagged with the loss.
After the game, Nick Mikan was given a 2-game suspension. Mikan was given two misconducts for hits to the head in the game and piled on top of one already taken earlier in the year, it's an automatic two-game suspension.
Game 2: Steinbach wins 3-2
Knowing it was going to be a hostile environment and needing to find a win, the Pistons put on their hardhats, workboots, put their lunch in their metal pails and went to work, earning a big win 3-2 to even the series 1-1.
Like in game 1, it was the road team that came out forcing the issue and eventually, getting on the board first.
Captain Dawson Milliken led the way on the forecheck down below the Flyers goal and the hulking 20-year-old came away with the puck and quick as a flash of lightning, wrapped the puck around the net and in to put his club up 1-0. Milliken's first of the playoffs was assisted by Ty Paisley and Kirk Mullen.
Also, like in game 1, the home team responded to tie the game 1-1.
With the Winkler crowd buzzing and feeding off the energy, the Flyers pushed to grab a lead. Their efforts were rewarded with a penalty shot.
Steinbach's Dominik Wasik stood tall and gave his bench a major boost as the 20-year-old from Colorado came up with a massive blocker save, keeping it a 1-1 game.
In the final seconds of the period, Winkler had Steinbach hemmed in their zone but a key faceoff win by Neo Kiemeney and some hardwork along the boards by Landon Roberts made sure the puck got out of the zone.
The Flyers seemed to fall asleep for just a split second, allowing Noah Szabo to rip a pass up to a streaking Ty Paisley who tore off the bench after a change and into the neutral zone. Paisley fed a sweet backhanded pass to the cutting Travis Hensrud who walked in and put the biscuit in the basket to put Steinbach up 2-1 with just three seconds left in the first period.
Strong play in the second kept the Flyers from generating much in the way of chances as the Pistons held them to minimal shots through most of the period.
While on a penalty kill, Hunter Degelman went in hard on the forecheck and delivered what looked to be a hard, clean hit against a Flyers defender. Degelman was called for a hit to the head and given a 2-minute minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
For a second straight game, the Flyers had a 5 on 3 power play while down a goal.
This time, it was not meant to be as Davin Griffin put on a shorthanded clinic. The 20-year-old almost singly handily killed off the 47 seconds of being down two men and after that was done, the penalty kill unit kept the Flyers from generating anything 5 on 4.
After some great work on the penalty kill gave the team a boost, a massive insurance goal was scored just past the midway point of the period by an unlikely source.
Paisley won a faceoff in the Winkler zone cleanly back to defender Ethan Johnson who wired a shot quickly on goal and in for his first of the playoffs. The 19-year-old beloved teammate was mobbed on the ice and on the bench after celebrating the 3-1 goal.
After going up by two, Steinbach started to drift back into some bad habits, trying to do too much and over-complicating their game, which gave the Flyers some life after they forced some turnovers and piled up a few shots in the final minutes of the period.
Wasik and the defense stood up to the pressure and the Pistons took a 3-1 lead into the third.
The final period was very economical for the road team. They moved pucks quickly, they had good support in all areas of the ice and they made sure to stick to their defensive plan.
Winkler did manage to get a great chance while short-handed as they executed a perfect set play, winning a faceoff in their own zone, flipping the puck high in the air over the defenders allowing a forward to race to pick it up and break in all alone.
Once again, Wasik stared down the challenge and the NCAA Div-1 Air Force commit came up with a gigantic save to keep it a two-goal game.
Winkler did manage to get a little closer with under three minutes to go, with the goalie pulled, an off-the-rush shot beat Wasik to cut the lead to 3-2.
As the final seconds ticked down, the Pistons managed to clear the zone and time ran out on Winkler, giving Steinbach a thrilling 3-2 win to tie the series 1-1.
Steinbach's power play had their chances, especially in the third period to put the game away but they couldn't, finishing 0-5 while the penalty kill was 2-2.
Wasik picked up the win.
Game 3 is set for Tuesday night at the TG Smith Centre while game 4 will be in Winkler on Wednesday night.